busBetween professional football, basketball, and baseball, there are fewer than 3,000 on-field jobs for athletes. In any given season there are roughly 70,000 student-athletes playing college football. Of that number, half would be eligible to enter the professional ranks. To put it bluntly, the odds are long and for every one that makes it, there are thousands of others left to wonder. And for those left wondering, what happens when reality dictates a life outside professional sports?

For every Tony Mandarich, a former Michigan State offensive lineman who was a bust in the NFL, there are scores of other athletes who never even get a chance to continue their athletic careers. Mandarich was the Big Ten Lineman of the Year and a first-team All-American in 1988 and was the second pick in the NFL draft the following year. He never panned out and was out of football soon after. But, he was given the opportunity. For many, once the final game is played, the uniform comes off and the playing days are over.

Many athletes will struggle with a life that does not include the structure of a schedule, the camaraderie, and the thrill of victory. An athlete’s career is his or her fifteen minutes of fame and when that time is up, it is difficult not being the center of attention any more. There will be some that may slip into a depression, but it is important for student-athletes to develop a life outside of sports. Student-athletes must remember the “student” part of the equation and the reason why they are a college athlete in the first place–to get an education.

A well-rounded education, which does include athletics, will prepare a student-athlete for what is to come after the shoes are hung up. The athlete that really focuses on developing him/herself will be prepared mentally for the struggle of not being an athlete and being, well, just an average Joe.

November 2021
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