They could use the rookie symposium as a format guide and fill it with sessions on post career financial planning, mental health and well-being, marital and family relations, and new career planning and/or training. I envision a system that would be open (but not mandatory) for all former players to attend as well. Perhaps eventually growing to the point where smaller versions were held regionally and more frequently.
There has been a lot of attention recently on the concussion problem in football and their lasting effects on players. In fact, there are currently more than 1,000 former NFL players involved in lawsuits related to concussions and head-related trauma. Some are saying that the brain damage caused by the concussions correlates to an increased risk of suicide.
While I do not know if there is a correlation to suicide or not, I do know that many other rarely discussed factors put former players at a higher than average risk for suicide. The most common factor I have seen is when the player’s success has covered up an underlying anxiety or depressive problem that they have (and are even often unaware of having).
When you are playing it is easy to get caught up in your career and all the accoutrements of it, thus distracting your attention away from any underlying problems. Unfortunately, when a problem like this is obscured or ignored, it is highly probable that the problem is growing worse. Once your career ends and the demands on your time drop, you will likely be forced to deal with this problem head-on. Not only are most players poorly equipped to deal with what they are facing, but our society adds a hidden supercharger to the problem: unrealistic expectations.
The message our society promotes from birth is that happiness comes from wealth, fame or freedom to do whatever you want to do. I will be the first to admit that all those things are great at covering up misery in the short-run, but they can be devastating over the long haul.
Let me explain. If you are poor and depressed you more than likely attribute it to your financial condition and at least have the hope that an improvement in your finances will solve your problems. But if you are depressed and wealthy, famous and free, those things will turn against you, and you will instead be confused as to why you are not happy, because you have everything you ever thought you wanted. This confusion will turn into guilt and hopelessness making you much more likely to commit suicide.
There are many contributing factors that go into a person’s decision to commit suicide, but virtually all of them are treatable with proper intervention. One of the first things I teach all of my clients is that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to what happens. It is our inaccurate way of looking at things that cause most of our anguish, rather than the events we attribute our agony too.
Although I primarily work with athletes to help improve their performance, I have had a number of athletes tell me that what they worked on with me has helped them even more with life. Sadly, most football players skimp on mental training in favor of physical training to their detriment. It would not take much for the NFL to change that and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc