Leaving the Game: Status and Identity in the Role Exit of Professional Football Players
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Football is one of America's favorite sporting pastimes, with its top professional organization, the National Football League (NFL), raking in some of the highest revenues of any sports league in the nation. There has been a lot of public discussion recently about issues facing NFL retirees. Most of this discussion has been centered around two main issues: financial well-being and physical health of retirees. In this dissertation, I shift the focus to the social-psychological process of role exit, the leaving of a role that is central to one's self-identity and re-creation of a new role that incorporates some aspects of the one being left behind. I link this micro-level process of role exit to macro-level structural inequalities in order to better understand how status and capital shape identity (and vice versa). In this dissertation, I argue that even though all professional football players occupy a high status position for a short period of time, they both enter and exit this role with varying levels of capital and status. These structural inequalities account for much of the difference in retirees' experiences in life after sport. The important question, however, is how do larger inequalities shape individual experiences? I argue that players with higher stores of appropriate capital are able to disidentify with football before actually disengaging with the sport, allowing them more preparation time and less psychological turmoil in creating a new identity. In other words, the way a player exits the football role is both shaped by and shapes their status and social position in life after sport.