Click here to read Jack Bechta's piece on leaving the game.
Go back to school. That’s my advice for any veteran player that is making the transition from the somewhat catered lifestyle of the NFL to the real world.
There has been plenty of talk (and opinion) lately on how tough it is for these players to leave the NFL and to transition into the next stage of their lives.
After seven seasons as a pro, going back to school and getting my Masters helped me transition from the NFL.
I get it. And I went through the same thing after my final season in 2006.
You are thrown into the job market with no real world experience in your early to mid 30’s. That can be tough if you don’t have a future career picked out or even an idea of what you want to do for the next 25 years until real retirement hits.
That’s why I went back to school to get my Masters in the NFL’s Tuition Reimbursement Program. The league will pay up to $15,000 a year (via player eligibility of the new CBA) to continue towards your undergraduate degree or to start a graduate program.
I had one small gig in my first year out of the game with the Chicago Sun Times. Write a weekly column on the Bears. The rest of the time? Not much to do outside of entertaining my newborn baby boy in our place down the street from Wrigley Field.
With an undergrad degree from Iowa in Journalism already taken care of, I enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago. The Masters in Writing and Publishing program. I jumped into classes that taught style, short story form, fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, etc.
Did that erase the need for competition? No, but it did open my eyes to a completely different dynamic. We talked literature, essays, etc. in those classes. No Tampa 2 or zone blitz discussions in Composition Theory on Tuesday nights at DePaul.
I needed that. Something different. Something new.
And I also needed to be reminded that the world does not revolve around the NFL.
That’s key from my perspective as a retired player. You have to find something when you leave the game that opens doors and challenges you in different ways.
Higher education will do that, and when the league pays for it, why not give it a shot? The program exists for a reason. And if there are any players out there that have just left the game, my advice is to give it a try if you are searching for an answer. It can ease the transition period while you figure out the direction you want to go. If anything, it buys you some time with a new experience.
Players must understand that nothing in life can replace the NFL. That’s impossible. But if education can drive you to find a new passion, then go for it.
No question I still think about the game. Every ex-player does. But going back to school was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41