Life After Sports by Jarrett Irons University of Michigan Student-Athlete As the year passed, I continued to get better in football. Even though I was focused on my academic success, it was obvious my mind-set had changes. I did not value education as I did before. Football started to consume me and most of my thoughts. I found myself going against everything I believed in. It was a known fact in my upbringing that education is more important than football. I still conceded to the rigors of playing big-time college football. Because of my weakness toward coaches and the pressure of wanting to succeed, I became totally engulfed in football. I was 80 percent dedicated to football and 20 percent toward education. As a result of this dedication. my junior year I was elected captain of the football by my teammates. For my peers to have that much respect for and trust in me really meant a lot. I was one of five players historically to have been elected to be captain as a junior at the University of Michigan football program. I was entering the period of my life that I call "the limelight era". The limelight era was the time when I started to receive attention form the press, newspapers, magazines, and television. It seemed as thought I was getting interviewed every day of the week. This attention I was receiving was more that I ever expected. These were some the perks that came with being captain. As a result of playing football, I was elected First Team All Big Ten and First Team All-American. At this time I was feeling on top of the world. I graduated from the University of Michigan my fourth year and went on to pursue my Master's Degree during my fifth. This was a great accomplishment , but I did not value it as much as my accomplishments in football. During my fifth year I was elected team captain for the second consecutive year. As a result of my play on the field, I received numerous awards that year. After the season, I put myself in a good position in terms of the National Football League (NFL) draft. The media had me rated the number one linebacker in the country entering the NFL draft. Viewing my accomplishments, one would think that many NFL teams would fight over who would draft me. On draft day, I was very calm. Many of the NFL teams were calling to let me know they might take me. I remember sitting in my living room and watching the draft with my family. I could feel the anticipation in the room. The draft got underway and the first round was going fast. As I sat there, I remembered thinking I could be one of the players to get drafted in this round. In my heart I knew I was good enough and had proved that through my career. The first round concluded and my phone had not made a sound. While still being calm, I kept a positive attitude about my situation. I knew I had a better chance of being drafted in the second round, still a great accomplishment, However, this round was quickly over and my phone was still quiet. Unfortunately I did not get drafted in the third round either. Even though I was not taken on the first day, I still had four more rounds to go. Before I knew it, we were halfway through the seventh round. I could not fathom the fact that I was not being drafted. I remember the puzzled look on my father's face when the past player was taken. He was confused over the events that had taken place. he kept shaking his head and asking
"Why?" "It's not fait, it's just not fair, " my mother said. "After all you've accomplished as a player and a person, how could they not draft you?" Ironically, when the draft ended, many of the NFL teams started calling me to invite me to their training camps. First the teams did not draft me; now they wanted me to tryout. I remember getting upset with many of the teams because they were trying to pressure me into coming to their camp as a free agent. A free agent is a player who has the choice of which team to play for, whereas when players are drafted they are obligated to the particular team that drafts them. It is also easier for drafted players to make the team than non-drafted players. Eventually I decided to play for the Arizona Cardinals. By the time camp started, I had accepted the fact of being a free agent. I welcomed the notion of having to prove myself all over again. Throughout training camp I started coming into my own. I was playing well, just like I did my whole career at Michigan. As training camp went on, I remember receiving a phone call early one morning. The person at the end of the phone told me the head coach wanted to see me. He told me to bring my play book. I started getting nervous. What did the head coach want with me? Did I do something wrong? As it turned out, the Cardinals were cutting me from the team. The head coach told me that I was good enough to be on the team but that I was not what he was looking for. I could not understand this. I was playing well and I fit into the scheme of the defense. Unfortunately it was not for me to understand. Even though I was at a low point, I began to reflect on my life as a person and my purpose. I stopped asking myself why and started believing that things happen in this world for a reason. With this, I had only two options. I could either go back to Texas and hang out with all of my buddies I grew up with, or I could go back to the University of Michigan to finish my Master's Degree. Going back to Michigan was going to be one of the hardest endeavors I would ever endure. I was a football icon in the State of Michigan. How could I face those people knowing that I had failed? I had been playing organized football since the second grade. Socially I have been viewed as a athlete in the eyes of others. Subsequently football became my identity. I was known and regarded as an athlete and loved the fact that people respected me. In the back of my mind, I felt like people would not respect me and look at me in the same way as before. Closing the door on football and opening a new chapter in my life was not going to be easy. Graduate school became my transition. Even though I has always had a plan for life after sports, I never thought sports would end so soon. Regardless, I had control to do whatever I wanted to do. Looking back on my situation, it makes me happy the way things worked out. I am proud of the fact that I have become more than a football player. I believe the key to my transition was the attainment of my degree. This gave me the confidence and belief in myself outside football. As a result, I began to develop an entirely new identity. My identity transformed from football player to scholar. Reliving these experiences in my life has drawn me tot he question, how or why have I made the transition out of football? Why is the transition out of sport so difficult? My situation is similar to that of many of the collegiate athletes playing today. They have been socialized and identified as athletes and nothing else. I especially see this dilemma among African American male student athletes. In my opinion, many athletes would have a better chance of a positive career transition if a college degree were attained.