Depending on your prerogative, for some people, the NFL may not always stand for ‘National Football League’. It has also variously had alternative meanings over the years, such as ‘No Fun League’ in the face of continuing rules changes that some feel take away from the quality of the on-field product.
For many, however, including those who play the game, it stands for ‘Not For Long’, with the average NFL career lasting only a few years. And while they make good money in comparison to the average national income, their window of earning potential is short, and requires a lifetime of shrewd investment and expenditure to make that money last.
That is the mindset of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Will Allen, a former 2004 fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers who has spent the majority of the back half of his career up north. Allen has used the offseason in recent years to prepare for his life after his football career is over, through programs supplied by the NFLPA.
This is an essential tool for the majority of players, who typically do not make a lifetime’s worth of money during their brief careers. Says NFLPA senior manager of player affairs and development Leslie Satchell, “many players have been successful in football due to a linear focus on their athletic endeavors”.
She goes on, “the NFLPA recognizes the importance of taking time out to build professional relationships and experiences outside of football. We know it can be overwhelming to prepare for life after football, so that’s where we step in”.
One of the programs that Allen participated in last offseason as an externship working in Washington D.C. in a program sponsored by National Grid, an energy company, learning about the energy industry. This year, he is working with Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois, who serves on House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee.
And it’s not a coincidence. “This stems from my desire and interest”, Allen said. “I want to see a culture change regarding energy and see our nation be more involved in how energy can be used alternatively and efficiently”.
“I have had my mind set on it for a while”, he said, about “having a world where we can get energy prices lower and make it affordable for everyone and still create jobs. I want to be part of that mix, be instrumental in that technology”.
Allen is coming off of his 12th NFL season, and the sixth in which he has played (primarily) under Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, sans a brief layover in Dallas a couple of years back. He has spent most of that time as a backup safety, but he moved into the starting lineup last year following the retirement of Troy Polamalu and the struggles of Shamarko Thomas.
But the 33-year-old’s NFL future as it is currently formulated is uncertain at best. He may have all the intangibles in the world off the field that you look for in a teammate—which will serve him well when his career is over—but your body can only let you play so long.
No organization should understand this reality better than the one rebuilt by the great Chuck Noll, who always preached to his players the importance of life after football, canonizing the phrase “life’s work”. Tomlin, and Bill Cowher before him, have fallen in line in his wake in preaching the message in their own unique ways, and I think that their players are better off for it.