Derek E. Hingle/US Presswire
Derek E. Hingle/US Presswire

The Games Go On, And So Does Life

Players have always complained about a lack of support when their NFL careers are over. That’s about to change thanks to the NFLPA’s new program, The Trust

Emily Kaplan
· More from Emily·

Even though he was an undrafted rookie who played college football at William & Mary, the smallest school in one of the smallest conferences in the country, David Caldwell wasn’t intimidated by his introduction to the NFL.

His first training camp with the Colts in 2010 felt like freshmen orientation all over again. Everything was taken care of, from where to live to what to eat. While most veteran teammates went home at noon, Caldwell and other rookies stayed after morning practice until 3 or 4 p.m., sitting in meeting after meeting after mind-numbing meeting. Every conceivable topic was covered: How to carry yourself in public … How to speak to the media … Why it’s important to ask for a ride home when you’ve been drinking … How to save money … How to associate with good people, register a gun, eat a nutritious breakfast …

If there was one blessing to being undrafted, it’s that Caldwell missed the league’s rookie symposium—all draftees must attend—and didn’t have to hear the same platitudes repeated over and over again.

But at the Colts’ facility, on and on the lectures went …

Christopher Szagola/Cal Sport Media
A former Colt, the 26-year-old David Caldwell went through camp with the Giants this summer but didn’t make the final cut. (Christopher Szagola/Cal Sport Media)

“Pretty much everything your parents would say if they had the time to sit down and tell you,” Caldwell says. “You have young guys coming in with a lot of money. And the league does a good job of making you feel comfortable. The only thing I really had to worry about was football.”

Leaving, of course, is always the hardest part.

After three seasons in Indianapolis, one as a starting safety and two nursing myriad injuries, Caldwell was back in the job market. He signed with the Giants last April and had a decent training camp. But he woke up one morning and saw several missed calls. He recognized the area code and then looked at his calendar. It was the Giants calling. It was Aug. 31. It was bad news: cut day.

He reported to work fully aware of what would happen next. The meeting with Giants brass was short and courteous. “For them it’s just another day,” Caldwell said. “It was just business.”

All of a sudden, the structure that had been thrust upon Caldwell since he became a professional football player vanished. He moved back to his childhood home in Montclair, N.J., and kept working out, though his schedule was wide-open and uncertainty defined his life.

At 26, he has a finance degree to fall back on. He wants to launch his own clothing company. He’s dabbled as a personal trainer. He also just launched a blog. “I’m not too worried right now, because I have some options,” Caldwell says. “I have a lot of options.”

But having options is different than having direction. Caldwell needs to figure out what’s best for his future and what will make him the happiest. But unlike his entrance into the NFL, there’s been no structure or guiding hand. The NFL Players Association hopes to change that with a new initiative called The Trust.

Launched last month, The Trust is an arm of the NFLPA that offers free amenities to former players in areas of health and nutrition, career transition and financial education. The $22 million a year budget (which will increase by five percent annually) was procured from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the league. “A big part of our negotiations had little to do with dollars or the salary cap,” says Kevin Mawae, the former NFLPA president who stepped down in 2012 . “It was about benefits and post-career options. So this was a huge victory for us.”

The NFLPA spent the last two years assembling the program. They set up partnerships with the University of North Carolina, Tulane University and the Cleveland Clinic. They hired a staff of six, including four project managers who will work directly with the players. (Two of the project managers, Hannibal Navies and Zamir Cobb, are former players.)

Any former player who was in the league for two years, no matter his status, be it a 53-man roster or a practice squad, can sign up by calling a toll-free number or sending an email. Every player will be called back by a project manager, who will serve as a point-person as the retired player makes travel arrangements, doctors appointments and arrangements to attend seminars. Everything is paid for, including airfare.

“Even airfare for spouses,” says Bahati Van Pelt, director of The Trust.

The average NFL career lasts less than four years, according to the NFLPA, and while it’s a common misconception that most players endure financial or emotional hardship after retiring, it’s true that almost all are open to receiving guidance as they transition into a new life. “Everybody has a different story, different issues, different goals and dreams beyond the game,” Mawae says. “This program is a road map for every guy to help with their future.”

Roman Oben was a third-round pick of the Giants in 1996 (left). He played 12 seasons in the NFL for four teams, including the last four with Chargers (top right). In September 2006, his alma mater, Louisville, honored his No. 72 jersey. Oben, 41, is now a broadcaster who wants to use the NFLPA’s The Trust to get a full medical workup. (Clockwise from left: Bill Kostroun/AP :: John Pyle/Cal Sport Media :: Dave Klotz/Icon SMI)

Roman Oben, for example, became a broadcaster after retiring in 2008 from a 12-year NFL career. The 41-year-old hopes to use The Trust to get a complete physical, something he might have had to pay for on his own in the past. “The levels of care you had access to when you played football,” Oben says, “it’s something that guys might take for granted.”

Matt Ulrich, another lineman who played only two NFL seasons, traded his three-point stance for a 9-5 desk job. The soon-to-be 32-year-old no longer works out 25 hours a week and has put on 15 pounds since leaving football in ’06. He no longer has a regimen to follow. “I want to use The Trust,” he says, “to know how should I be working out so I can walk when I’m 60.”

Some players might use The Trust for networking or to finish their degrees.

“I’m married, have two teenagers and have my Master’s degree,” says Mawae, an All-Pro center who left behind a 16-year career after the 2009 season. “My needs might be completely different than [players] who came out of college after three years without a degree. But the beauty of this program is we can all get something out of it.”

But can The Trust reasonably accommodate everyone who wants to sign up for it? Is it staffed and funded well enough to handle the legions of retired players? Van Pelt says the program will grow in lockstep with enrollment, but it remains to be seen how much it will be used and how much it can truly offer.

Assuming, that is, players aren’t too proud to seek help.

“I’m sure you’re going to have wives calling the 1-800 number, not the players,” Oben says. “But in the end, people should realize: We used to complain there were not resources to facilitate certain things. Now they’re being offered to us, and you’d be stupid not to take advantage.”

Football players have always been faced with two harsh realities when they reach the end of the line. The games go on, and so does life. The difference now is they have someone helping them find their way.


oh and dont forget to teach them to go potty and how to write their name etc etc... 

I get that these things are needed and not everyone has the same upbringing. But how do these "Men", as they like to call themselves and be treated as, get through college without understanding any of these things? And if your going to go with the "give a young kid money they don't know defense", name another industry that feels a need to instruct their employees on how to live a normal life as an adjusted human being.

Here is the bottom line, as a mid 30's family orientated person; there are some decisions I made in my 20's and even teen years that I would like to do-over. But that is part of life and growing and learning. That said, I don't feel bad that these guys play a game and get paid good money. It is nobody's fault that they haven't prepared to be anything other than that so that they can transition after being an undrafted free-agent with an average career of 3 years. If you look below in the comments, Visgor says as a 6th rd pick he got paid $60,000 with a $15,000 signing bonus... in 1980!!! That's good money by today's standards. So... in short... we would all like a do-over but life doesn't afford you such things.


This is another example of why great writers writing great outside-the-lines articles make the MMQB the best NFL site on the web.


In reference to JMillerNC, I was  a 6th round pick in 1980, signed for a $15,000 signing bonus and a $35,000 contract. The average salary in 1980 was $65,000.

Not what most think.


The Games go on and so do our lives. I guess.  Its hard for me to remember since my first of 9 NFL caused brain surgeries occurred during the 81 Super Bowl season.

9 NFL caused emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries

3 NFL caused lt knee surgeries

1 NFL caused Artificial Gore Tex ACL transplant

32 years of NFL caused gran mal seizures

ZERO NFL Benefits

In the last 2 1/2 years, due to major cognitive problems from developing hydrocephalus from concussions, I've lost my environmental consulting business, lost my house, lost 3 jobs, losing my wife and fighting to hang onto my relationships with my children.  

ESPN OUTSIDE THE LINES:  The Damage Done 020813

Channel 13 News Sacramento 10/29/12  Terry Tuatolo interview

OUT OF MY HEAD: My Life in and Out of Football  $2.99. On the Kindle version (

George Visger

SF 49ers 80 & 81

Former Wildlife Biologist

Traumatic Brain Injury Consultant

The Visger Group 


The Trust sounds awesome - I really hope Peter can give us an in-depth look at how it works, maybe even a case study or two, during the offseason.  I think it would be fascinating to watch as a player learns how to manage their finances, make post-NFL career decisions, network, etc.  

I admit I'm an NFL nerd, and that the topic might not have wide-reaching interest, but so much gets reported about the players who make millions and are destitute, it would be great to see someone utilizing The Trust and making something of their careers/lives even if they weren't the flashy first-round draft pick earning $15 million a year.


@GeorgeVisger George... $65,000 for a 20-something year old in 1980 is a lot of money. Granted not what most think... but that is my salary now (2013) and its a good salary by today's standards.


@GeorgeVisgerI am not trying to harp on you are be mean. I personally do not want my kids playing the contact sports that I played because know I had multiple concussions that we ignored and it was called "getting your bell rung". Today we know more and while I do watch football, I do not want to see people get hurt. 

That said, you chose to play football, you cannot prove that your sustained injuries were caused by 2 years in the NFL (to which you credited above as 32 years) and you also stated it was caused by 1981 SB... granted it takes only one hit to do serious damage. But you cannot fault the NFL. Especially in the 1980's you have to fault a culture that told you to be tough and stop being a sissy and that culture unfortunately exists today.

I competed in sports through high school and college. I was fortunate to be ok and never seriously injured, although I do think that I too experience temporary memory loss from what was many concussions that I walked off only to go back out there and compete. I am sorry that you have experienced this much pain in your life but life is about choices. You chose to play football.


@JMillerNC Peter didn't write this article, so maybe you meant Emily would give an update. Also, you're less "nerd" more biased and uneducated about how much most players make ,NFL fan. Most players go broke the same way any other person w/o a job does divorce, alimony,child support, medical bills, etc.