Former Pro Football Player Turned Sociologist Takes a Look at the NFL

Sep 10, 2018

Neither the controversy over football players taking a knee during the national anthem nor the increasingly apparent risk of long term brain damage for players has badly hurt NFL television ratings thus far.

For players, the draw is the competition, the fame, and the fortune. The average salary is a little over two million dollars per year for NFL players.

But on average players spend just 3.3 seasons in the NFL, while a player must stay for four seasons to be “vested” and qualify for lifetime health coverage. Many players end up with chronic pain and financial trouble after leaving the league.

Robert W. Turner II has written a new book that delves into the reasons.

He’s a former professional football player who is now assistant professor of clinical research and leadership at George Washington University. His new book is Not For Long: The Life and Career of the NFL Athlete.

Turner recalls the last day of his NFL career. The general manager called Turner into his office.

“He said, ‘Well thank you, but your service is no longer needed and we'll give you the ticket to anywhere. Where do you want to go?’”

Turner said his heart sank and he realized he needed more than a few hours to figure that out.

“It meant more than just where do I physically want to go, it was what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” he told Living Lab Radio.

A ten-year odyssey led him to a PhD in sociology, which allowed him to turn a scientist’s eye on the system he had just left. It was revelatory.

“The NFL is not like baseball where they have minor league teams that are paying players,” he said. “The NFL is getting basically their labor developed for free by the investment from communities at the local level to the colleges on the higher level.”

The system is driven by the promise of fame and riches when you reach the pros.

“That leaves you vulnerable for maybe not developing other parts of your life,” he said.

This helped explain why so many NFL athletes have a difficult time after they leave the league.

After studying the NFL and writing the book, Turner is also working make things better for the next generation of players. He supports a group called “4th and 1,” which is a football camp in Texas that adds SAT preparation and life skills into the mix.

“We have to gain respect in other ways,” he said. “We have to see young men get the education and be able to have the financial competency so they can continue to contribute well beyond their time in the NFL.”

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