The Second Lives of Pro Football Players

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Here's a really good piece by Elizabeth Merrill on NFL players staring into the abyss of retirement:


It can't be reality, pulling down a million or two a year, having surgery on both your hips by the time you're 31, hearing, around that same time, that your career is done. Washed out at 31. What does a guy do after that? "The hardest part is that you're part of something," said Chris Bober, a former offensive lineman for the Giants and Chiefs, "and then you're not and you have to go reinvent yourself." 

The myth, Bober said, is that NFL players are set for life. Bober seemingly did all the right things when he was in the league. He attended Harvard Business School and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. He invested his money. Then the recession came a few years ago, around the same time he was being cut from the Chiefs, and wiped away roughly half of his investments. But even if that hadn't happened, Bober knew he had to start another career. He was in his early 30s and had spent his entire life pushing and building toward something. He had to find something else to do.

The money thing is always a shocker to people. I don't want to make any excuses. But there is something about human nature, and something about all the ways we've invented to spend money, which makes it very easy to insist on improving our standard of living. Sometimes, regrettably, way beyond our means.

But with that said, I think the psychological aspect must be a killer. I'm trying to imagine someone telling me that I basically wouldn't be able to write after age 40, or so. I don't know how to say this, but I'd feel like my life was over. The only thing in my life above my writing is family. Family, friendship and writing are about all I've been successful at. What if that were family, friendship and football?


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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