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  • Is There Life after Football? Surviving the NFL by James A. Holstein, Richard S. Jones, and George E. Koonce Jr.
  • Gerald R. Gems
Holstein, James A., Richard S. Jones, and George E. Koonce Jr. Is There Life after Football? Surviving the NFL. New York: New York University Press, 2015. Pp. ix+321. Appendices, notes, index. $27.95 cb.

This study of the life course of National Football League (NFL) players is gleaned from George Koonce’s PhD dissertation, a sociological study with a dose of history that analyzes the lives of nearly fifty NFL players during and after their football careers. As a ten-year veteran of the NFL and later an athletic administrator at the collegiate and professional levels, Koonce’s access and contacts to players proved instrumental in the research, which invoked grounded theory to elicit comparative themes and categories with a nuanced approach to racial, social class, gender, and economic issues assessed through eight chapters.

“Pursuing the Dream” follows the journey of older players who competed before the age of free agency (pre-1993), largely for the love of the game. They specialized in only one sport and endured year-round training, but they make it clear that the recruiting stories of willing women, cars, and cash as well as other “entitlements” had been well in place by the 1950s. Billy Cannon, the Heisman Trophy winner at Louisiana State University in 1959, enjoyed the revenue from an entire section of seats in the school stadium.

“Inside the Bubble” covered one’s career in the NFL, which averages only 3.5 years. Despite the well-publicized and astronomical salaries of superstars, most players earned much less than their contemporaries in Major League Baseball or the National Football League (NFL), and no NFL contracts are guaranteed. Interviewees found the game to be a “visceral and emotional high, and intellectually demanding” (46) and willingly submitted to the league’s and teams’ socially controlling their lives, including dress codes, limited leisure, and conduct on and off the field, which the authors liken to Michel Foucault’s synopticon. Players’ isolation from the real world inhibits the development of social skills and reinforces the players’ ethos of hypermasculinity, stoicism, and conspicuous consumption as a means of gaining respect.

“The End” addresses retirement or, more likely, being cut from the team, an ignominious fate that proves a blow to one’s identity and masculinity.

“A Lifetime of Hurt” establishes the physical price paid for temporary glory. Eighty-six percent of the interviewees underwent orthopedic surgery. Many suffered chronic pain, disability, drug abuse, and premature aging. The current concussion issues are assessed, as well as the difficulties players’ face in litigation versus the NFL juggernaut.

“All That Dough: Where Did It Go” contends that, contrary to widespread publication of former players’ bankruptcies, most are able to subsist, though few flourish. Young and [End Page 424] working-class players tend toward promiscuity and profligacy that result in wasteful spending. Some run up bar tabs of $100,000, while Adam “Pacman” Jones claims to have spent more than a million dollars on one lavish Las Vegas weekend. Poor investments, corrupt agents, and greedy family and “friends” can quickly deplete one’s financial resources.

“What’s Next?” engages life after football, in which many are unwilling to accept lower-paying jobs, a clear departure from pre–free agency years when players (75 percent of those surveyed) customarily worked at other occupations during the off season and were better prepared for life after football. The authors contend that almost 80 percent of their subjects eventually obtained a college degree, but not all got an education in the sense of learning life skills. Despite their knowledge of the game, relatively few enter the coaching ranks, stating that they do not want to work a hundred hours per week for less pay than the players.

“Playing without a Playbook” focuses on the nature of life without football. Players are ill equipped to function without the structure provided by the previous regulation of their lives. Although more than 75 percent of those surveyed were married (the authors did not state if this involved multiple marriages), the nature of the relationship...


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pp. 424-425
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