After the playing days are over: Athletes look for new opportunities

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Collegiate and professional athletes dedicate their lives to their teams during the time in their programs.  When their playing days are over, it makes you wonder what opportunities and benefits these athletes are provided with, if any.

Retirement plans, health benefits and career services are some programs that the NCAA and professional leagues provide for their former athletes.

Saving for the future

Cory Schlesinger played 12 years in the NFL after being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft.  He’s now a teacher at Allen Park High School. Schlesinger has remained active in the Detroit Lions organization through their alumni association.

He said he and his family benefit greatly from the savings plan the NFL sets up for their players.

The NFL Player Second Career Savings plan is designed so that when a player puts in $1 to their retirement, the NFL will put in $2, with the team contributing up to $52,000 a year. Players quality for the plan when they have at least two credited seasons in the league.

“I see it as free money,” Schlesinger said. “It is crazy to me that some players don’t take advantage of this, but a lot of the rookies and younger players don’t want to wait to touch their money. They want it now and don’t understand at young ages how much it really could benefit them and their families in the future.”

Schlesinger said he feels the NFL compensates its players well after they are done playing, and he believes they try their to help set them up for success.

“Just the other day I got a letter from the NFL telling me I now have dental insurance through them, so that was nice,” he said. “They are changing the policies constantly but I do feel like they take care of us.”

Eddie Murray, a 19-year veteran the NFL agrees.

“All of the retirement business they do for us is great,” Murray said. “As a young player coming in, you don’t necessarily know what to do with the money you’re getting and aren’t always the most aware. The Lions made sure that us rookies were informed and told us all of the options that we had and let us know what would benefit us the most.”

Murray said he is at an age where he can start drawing from his retirement and is seeing the money he was putting away during his playing days.

Community outreach

While the retirement is the biggest long-term benefit Murray sees, his favorite part of being a former player is all of the alumni work he has since done.

“I played for many teams in my day — eight to be exact — but the Lions are the team who drafted me and who I played for the longest. They are definitely my home team,” Murray said. “I’ve lived in the greater Detroit area for awhile and have done everything I can with the Lions organization as an alumni. It’s fun for me. I’ve met some really good people and done lots of cool things.”

The alumni association promotes youth football, participates in community programs and helps provide support for former Lions players and their families.

Schlesinger also tries to participate in alumni events.

“I try and stay as involved as I can and the Lions are pretty good with their alumni and giving us opportunities,” Schlesinger said.  “But a main reason I’m so involved is because I’m local. I don’t know how retired players who don’t live in the area stay involved, most of the events we do are in the Detroit area.”

Support at the college level

Darien Harris played five seasons of football at Michigan State University and was named a captain his senior year. After going undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft, he was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals, but released before regular season games began.

After coming back to MSU to get his master’s degree in marketing research, he realized just how many student-athletes don’t ever finish their degree.

Harris said he knew a lot of guys who thought they were going to make it in the NFL and that was their only plan. They didn’t put the time in college to get their degrees and now, four or five years out, they don’t know what the next step is. He’s working on a program that will help former college athletes come back and learn how to transition into the workforce.

NCAA athletes are provided with a lot of opportunities and benefits while they are in college. Those on scholarships get help paying for textbooks, room and board, dining and other benefits — but those benefits stop when the athlete is no longer eligible to play under NCAA rules. And there a limited number of positions for former athletes to work for athletic departments.

Harris is hoping he can help put more focus on preparing student athletes in college for the world after.

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