There are times in our lives where we are moving in between stages and there is not complete clarity between one stage and the next. In these times, while we are looking ahead for the next opportunity, we may also still be considering if the past stage (or “window”) is fully completed or “closed” to us, or might there still be opportunities remaining there. It takes time to sort through those situations to figure out where you are at and what your possibilities are.
At other times we have absolutely no doubt that a particular window in our life is closed. These typically include stages in our lives often celebrated with certain traditions or ceremonies like graduations, weddings, funerals, and the like. These might also include situations where a job has been terminated, or we move from one state to another for whatever reason. In these situations it is clear that whatever opportunities existed previously they are no longer available to us and that we need to move on. There simply is no going back, at least not in the same way you were able to previously.
For our family the chapter of the University of Iowa and Iowa Football, lived through our son George, is now completed and has closed. George graduated with his degree in Communications in December (with 4 straight years named to Academic All Big Ten team : ), so the academic portion is done, and George now joins me as an “alumni” of the University of Iowa.
The aspect of his Iowa football life is also finished. With his participation in his last collegiate football game in the Outback Bowl against Florida, George is no longer a member of the Iowa Football team. When that last whistle blew and the game was over so was his career at Iowa. He is and will remain a member of the Iowa Football “family” for sure (and will be his entire life), but his playing and practice days at Iowa are done. No maybes, no ifs, no nothing. It is finished and completely over.
This is the kind of window closing that while very clear, can still take a bit of adjustment. This is a life that has been so completely occupying of his life, essentially 24/7/365 for the past 5 years, and now it is just gone. With the sound of a single whistle and the conclusion of the bowl game your senior year, it all comes to an end. You walk off the field, change clothes, empty your locker and walk out for the last time ever. So this Iowa football life that has been everything to him for these past 5 years, is completed with a sudden finality that can take your breath away.
While none of this is a surprise to any of us, as we knew it was coming particularly after the end of last season, the actual reality of it still strikes one firmly once it arrives. Academically George has been programmed to go to class, study, take tests etc., like all of us who attended college were. And for football it has been all about the team, with year round workouts including winter workouts, evolving into spring ball, then into summer workouts, to fall camp, and then into the season and daily practice/game schedule for 4 months, and finally bowl preparations, a game, and then repeat.
But this time there is no “repeat.” Now it is just done. No locker to go back to. No coach waiting for you to show up for film study, practice, or a weightlifting session. No teammates to see at the facility to workout with, complain about things to, celebrate victories with, and of course to grieve with on the losses. All of that, including the physical, mental, and emotional, is all gone from his life with the completion of this his last season.
That is a big void to fill and I have had teammates and former players who have struggled to make the transition from a football life to one outside of that structure. And I can understand why. Most of us start competing in athletics when we are very young and if we are by chance one of the small percentage that get to continue our playing careers in college we tend to so fully immerse ourselves in that effort that we come to frame our entire lives around our participation in college athletics. Right or wrong that is typically how it works.
So the end can be rough if you have not been preparing for it. As with any major change in our life it helps to have a transition plan. For some seniors on the Iowa Football team they have graduated and very shortly (like next Monday) will start full-time employment, completely outside of football. Continuing to play is not an option, they have accepted that, and have prepared for the next step by getting a job, often moving, and starting a new life immediately. Football as they knew it is gone from their lives, but they are prepared and are ready to move on into the “real” world. These individuals typically do fine with the transition and adjust well.
There are others, who also will not have the opportunity to extend their playing career, but for a variety of reasons will struggle. Yes, they knew this day was coming but for whatever reason do not have a solid plan for life after football. Or even if they do the transition is more difficult. Yes, they know they need to finish their degree and graduate (if they have not) and look for and find a job. They know they need to transition from being a college football player to a working person outside of athletics. But they do not have all the pieces put together. For some it will take a while to get it done and figure out what the next steps are. They need some time (and possibly some assistance) to get used to the fact that football/athletics will no longer be the major framework that their lives are built around. They will need some time to find something else to replace it, some help to see and then walk through the next window in their lives.
A few seniors will have the opportunity to extend their careers (for a brief time) and play at the next level. This is a very small percentage of college players each year (less than .01%) and is certainly no guarantee for most. Even for those who do make it, it is usually a very short window, with the average NFL career lasting less than 4 years.
People read about the big contracts and salaries, but often do not appreciate that the majority of players play for much less than the big contracts people read about. Many also do not appreciate the hard work, hours and hours of preparation required, the level of injuries and pain involved (that often continue long after you are done playing the game), and the other struggles many players deal with in their relatively short professional careers. Yes it is a great thing to be a part of and you are well rewarded financially compared to others of your age group. But for most NFL players it is a short window and they will still need to think about and have a plan for life after football.
But the reality is that whatever the sport, whatever the level we play at, all of us some day play our last and final game. This is true for everyone; no matter how great or how average you are or were, no matter male or female, no matter football, soccer, or track, whatever. The passing of time and the game itself makes sure that we will not play forever. New, younger, very talented, and healthier players are always on the horizon and entering the ranks. So in reality each of us are (or should be) preparing for that last game and life after football, or whatever our particular sport we are in.
So it is for George right now. It appears he will at least have the opportunity to explore the possibility of playing at the next level. But as we all know there are no guarantees with any of that and he may or may not make it. We hope he gets and can stay healthy. We hope that his NFL combine and pro day experiences are good; that he tests well, and then can look forward to a successful draft day. But we know of many who thought they would go and/or go high and did not, and others who were not supposed to even get drafted but were drafted well. So much of it lies in the hands of external forces that we will continue to focus on what we can control and let the rest of it take care of itself.
But for George the finality of the Iowa window being closed is real and he has accepted it. We have been preparing for several years for this day and with his degree in hand he moves on to explore the new windows that lie before him. One of them is the NFL and we will see if that fully opens and he is able to walk through it for a time. But there are others and he knows that and is prepared to make that transition whenever he needs to.
For now we are grateful for the window that has been the University of Iowa, which he has been privileged to be able to be a part of for the past 5 years. While it has been hard, challenging, and even frustrating at times, it has also been exciting, rewarding, and life changing. George has gown immensely (physically and otherwise) and it has all truly been a blessing. We are grateful for the opportunities he has had and are excited as we watch him move forward from this point in his life. He is well prepared, and while he faces uncertainty (as most everyone does at this point in their lives), he has a solid plan, people who love him, and a clear vision. We move forward with hope and optimism into 2017 and these new windows. I trust and hope that all of you do as well.