A heartfelt account of the difficulties football players face after they leave the NFL.
The NFL is the nation’s most popular sport, but the athletes who make the league rich suffer greatly once they step off the field. In When the Cheering Stops: Life after the NFL, players open up about the adversities they face after retirement. Long after the lights have dimmed on their playing days, NFL players face emotional distress, physical injuries, and cognitive decline, often suffering on their own. Personal interviews with former players reveal that many struggle with finances, finding a second career, addiction, depression, and violence. While success stories are also shared, the unfortunate truth is that there are far more players left hurt and broken after retirement.
Written by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers president and founder of the Retired Player Assistance program Gay Culverhouse, this book provides a unique inside perspective on the NFL and the long-term physical and emotional toll playing in the league takes on the players who make it great.
Gay Culverhouse was an executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for ten years, including president from 1991 to 1994. For many of those years, she was the highest ranking woman in the National Football League. Culverhouse testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the legal issues relating to football head injuries, and soon after founded the Gay Culverhouse Players Outreach Program, Inc. (now Retired Player Assistance, Inc.). This program assists retired NFL players in accessing the benefits to which they may be entitled by the NFL. She is the author of Throwaway Players: The Concussion Crisis From Pee Wee Football to the NFL.
Foreword by Jeff Dahl, member of Retired Players Assistance
Chapter 1: Why Me?
Chapter 2: Transition
Chapter 3: Health in the Locker Room
Chapter 4: Racial Disparity
Chapter 5: NFL Benefits
Chapter 6: Concussions and the NFL Settlement
Chapter 7: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Chapter 8: Drugs Addictions
Chapter 9: Domestic Violence
Chapter 10: Success versus Bankruptcy
About the Author
The late former Tampa Bay Buccaneers executive Culverhouse delivers a stirring and disturbing account of the lengths the NFL has gone to deny retired players support, a task she forewarns is “not a happy story, but it’s a story that needs to be told.” She asserts that “the path from exultation... to the poverty that follows is a quick three-year trip for some players,” and shares stories of the hardships some have endured once their time on the field is over. She writes of former players who are now homeless and showering in truck stops, and those battling depression, which she calls ex-players’ “number one disability.” Elsewhere, she details startling accounts of how poorly the NFL prepares players for life after the game—noting, for instance, that while the league offers a financial literacy course, it also charges players as much as $5,000 to attend—and recounts a class action lawsuit (the “roots” of which began around 2011) against the league regarding the long-term effects of concussions, “the NFL’s biggest existential crisis.” Throughout, Culverhouse comes across as a fierce advocate for ex-players, who she tirelessly championed until her death from cancer in July 2020. This should be necessary reading for football fans.
There is a plethora of books about professional athletes and their post-career lives… The book under review, however, written from the unique perspective of a female former NFL executive, does not focus on players receding from the limelight but instead employs a critical lens to explore race, physical and mental health, domestic violence, and financial difficulties some former NFL players have experienced. This book complements the accounts of individual players and coaches in retirement, providing a singular perspective from an insider who is nevertheless on the outside. As founder of the Retired Player Assistance nonprofit, which helps former professional athletes with many of the problems covered in the book, Culverhouse had direct and authoritative knowledge of the issues she discusses. Written with the assistance of others as her terminal illness progressed, the book was published posthumously, and though the early (biographical) portions of the book can seem overly reverential, the author's sense of mission, the cause that became her life's work, and the firsthand information and articulate arguments presented throughout the book far outweigh any sentimentality that may have crept in because of the circumstances. Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty. General readers.
Throughout the NFL's concussion crisis, Gay Culverhouse was the sole NFL executive -- current or former -- to speak out against the league's treatment of brain injuries. Literally, the only one. Her courage, insight and tell-it-like-it-is determination made her a unique voice. That voice lives on in this book.
Eye opening. Gay Culverhouse was a warrior for NFL players, and her book shines a light on the issues that plague the professional athlete, especially football players. She makes it clear that the culture of football, from Pop Warner to high school and beyond, must focus on teaching young men to be healthy, well-rounded individuals rather than just focusing on teaching them how to help a team be successful. She suggests that change is also needed within the NFL organization. Players must be more than just a physical commodity to be tossed away when it is no longer useful. One can hope that this book might make a difference both for the future players and in the organization.
I hope When the Cheering Stops: Life after the NFL receives the recognition it deserves for covering such an important topic.
12/1/21, KPLW Radio (St. Louis), Diane Jones Morning Show: Randy Grimes did a live interview to talk about the book.
11/8/21, Iowa NewsTalk Radio, The Morning Show with Doug Wagner: Randy was interviewed about the book.