Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Cotton, John L.

Second Advisor

Holstein, James A.

Third Advisor

Inderrieden, Edward J.


The role transition of National Football League (NFL) players upon retirement poses personal and professional struggles. This transition comes as a shock to many players and can be a prolonged experience resulting in personal dissatisfaction. I am a retired NFL player who has direct experience with this transition. Coping with this transition is difficult, and minimal support exists for players exiting the NFL. The intent of this study is to understand factors that encourage negative or positive coping mechanisms.

Methods of research include autoethnography, ethnography and the Grounded Theory. My personal experience and interviews with 21 retired NFL players provide qualitative information about role engulfment and identity construction. This data reveals factors relating to satisfactory and unsatisfactory transitions. Role engulfment influences academic preparedness, financial planning, networking opportunities, long-range vision, injury and life satisfaction.

Life satisfaction after football is not guaranteed, nor is it immediate. Intense devotion to sport does not guarantee a positive transition experience. The loss of status and camaraderie can be overwhelming to many players, leading to a loss of identification and negative coping mechanisms. The role engulfment of an athlete limits preparation for life after football and leads to unsatisfactory transitions, whereas diversification leads to more satisfactory transitions.

Researchers need to look at the earliest moments of an athlete's life to investigate the circumstances of identity construction and attitude formation regarding participation in activities beyond sport. Academic preparedness, along with early acceptance of early retirement and the need for a second career, can ease the adjustment and shorten the transition period. Transition out of sport may not have to be traumatic if the athlete's identity construction incorporates involvement in other activities and parts of adult life.



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