Background The long-term effects of concussions have led to concerns regarding former professional American football players’ post-career transitions. This cross-sectional study examines post-career transition experiences of former players retiring due to brain-health concerns.
Methods Former players (n=1,784), recruited via National Football League (NFL) and Players’ Association contact lists, completed an online/paper questionnaire. Variables included: demographics, playing history, retirement reasons (pre-specified options), and factors helping/hindering post-career transitions (open-ended). We calculated descriptives for study variables from players reporting retirement due to brain-health concerns. Using template analysis, we coded open-ended responses to identify factors helping/hindering post-career transitions.
Results Overall, 211 (11.8%) former players retired due to brain-health concerns (mean age=50.9±18.1, mean years played professionally=6.9±3.3). Alongside brain-health, other retirement reasons included: concerns about long-term physical health (n=155), mental health (n=121), and chronic pain (n=120). Factors helping post-career transitions were problem-focused (e.g., future planning, advice from older players, saving money) and emotionally-focused (e.g., faith/religion, spousal support, health provider/therapist care). Hindering factors were personal (e.g., ongoing musculoskeletal injury/pain issues, mental health concerns, poor health insurance, lacking transition plans, losing former schedule/routine), interpersonal (e.g. lacking support/empathy, being asked why they need to still work), and organizational (e.g., poor post-career transition support). These themes were also present among former players not reporting retirement due to brain-health concerns.
Conclusion Numerous post-career transition issues concern former players. Multidimensional interventions that mitigate cognitive challenges, chronic pain, and occupational stressors may help optimize post-career transition coping strategies.
Learning Outcomes Describe the post-career transition experiences of former players retiring from brain-health concerns.
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