Former MLB player Doug Glanville gives his perspective on the transition from the playing field to “real life.” Very well written, this poignant piece touches upon issues of self-esteem, confidence, belonging, responsibility, and accountability, amongst others. As Doug says, hopefully more is done by the sporting institutions for its alumni. The full piece from Aug. 12, 2009 can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/opinion/13glanville.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1, with an excerpt provided below.
By DOUG GLANVILLE
On paper, I was ready for my ride into the sunset. I had a nice Ivy League engineering degree, a wonderfully supportive family, some coins in my pocket. My transition to the other side was supposed to be smooth sailing to blissful relaxation. But I didn’t really know much about this world I was entering. I had a Ph.D. in baseball, but in every other realm that involved making a living, I was stuck at my college graduation ceremony, 15 years before.
And I was one of the more prepared players.
There are no institutional services to help baseball players move on to that next life. (A few, like the retired pitcher Jim Poole, have tried valiantly to create some.) You get the pat on the back, the thanks for the memories and the “you are going to be fine because you have money” platitudes while the door closes behind you. I don’t expect tears of sympathy — there are many causes more worthy of attention than the plight of millionaire athletes. (Then again, the majority of professional baseball players never leave the minor league ranks and never make even close to six figures a year.)
After I read the profound observations of Eddie George in a CNN article about the tragic fall of his former N.F.L. teammate, the quarterback Steve McNair, the universal pain of transitioning athletes crystallized for me. I had been talking to my own former teammates about life after the game and its challenges. Every one of them had struggled in one way or another. No matter how your career ends, once it does, it feels like the rocket you rode to the top has been abruptly stopped by an errant asteroid. Many of my former teammates and opponents were shaken to their core by McNair’s death; it hit home for every one of them. There’s nothing to fill that void of competing every single day at the highest level.
According to George, McNair was lost, floating around trying to define himself without the pads, seeking solace in relationships outside his marriage. George remarked, “What people fail to realize is that when you make a transition away from the game — emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually — you go through something. You change, and you’re constantly searching for something.” Who will understand that a transitioning athlete needs help? There are few soft landings when you’ve been flying high.
Failed marriages are a huge part of the sports culture. I have heard some astonishing statistics. In 2007, an organization called the Professional Sports Wives Association reported that “a staggering 80 percent of pro athletes are divorced and are a quarter of a million dollars in debt after they retire.” I certainly know many teammates, coaches and opponents who have gotten divorced at some point. And divorce frequently occurs right after a player retires.
You return home, and there isn’t a ticker tape parade for the homecoming king since in some ways you’re a stranger to your own family — you need to learn how to be consistently present. And how do you accomplish that while dealing with the trauma of missing the only way you’ve ever made a living, or the depression of feeling forgotten?
Shortly before I left the game, in 2005, I invested in a real estate development company. (Ask any ballplayer in transition; odds are they have at least “dabbled in real estate.” It is the fashionable investment of choice. It is also tangible and real, as you’re able to slap your name on a development sign and have the world know you’ve accomplished something.) My methodical nature told me I should get my M.B.A. and then work for a production builder, learning the business and working my way up the ladder, while plotting my own projects on the side (I was interested in the development side of building baseball stadiums). Instead, I jumped in feet first, providing both my capital and my time to someone who was almost a total stranger.
(The article continues at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/opinion/13glanville.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1)