Transitioning for Warfighters and NFL Football Players: Similar Challenges and New Opportunities for Growth, Part 2 of 3
The Risk and Impact of Career-Ending Injuries
In the case of both professional sports and military occupations, one’s fortune can suddenly be reversed and one’s entire life path can be changed in an instant. The greatest fear of many professional athletes is to have a career-ending injury. Similarly, in the combat zone, soldiers and Marines can suddenly experience a devastating injury. In the military, these injuries are often physical, but may involve exposure to extreme psychological traumas as well.
In any case, the individual can go from functioning at the highest level of their respective profession to suddenly being ejected from the organizing activity that is most closely linked to their sense of personal identity. When individuals suddenly find themselves outside their former world, the change is often paired with a feeling of invisibility. This is especially true for our warfighters. That is, the athletic endeavors of professional athletes are witnessed in a communal way. They are taped, recorded and regularly discussed on sports programs.
For example, Dwight Clark will forever be associated with “The Catch.” Some athletes find a way to keep a tie to their teams or to the sport as a whole through new roles such as becoming sports commentators or coaches.
People in society may continue to recognize top tier professional athletes as “celebrities.” Others may fade into relative anonymity, but they can be assured that a mention of their professional sports life will often generate positive interest and immediate social cache.
In contrast, those who hold the stories of our warfighters exist in a separate circle – the military and veteran community – that is not well integrated into mainstream society. If these experiences were understood and better integrated, more civilians would be able to go much deeper with our warfighters than relying on statements like “thank you for your service.”
A recurring theme in my conversations with Veterans is how they often feel like ghosts, not fully visible and no better understood (despite the hero worship) than Vietnam Veterans have felt. Many of the Veterans I have served have needed to actively grieve the loss of this identity. Many have been stuck until they are given this understanding and the necessary insights for how to grieve and grow beyond the role they have had for many years. This challenge is common for many professional athletes and veterans, and therefore represents an overlapping are of potential growth as well.
Read part 1 of this blog here.
Reprinted with permission by the author.
About the author:
Dr. Shauna Springer is a licensed Psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a doctoral degree from the University of Florida. She has been deeply embedded in the military and veteran community for over a decade. Prior to her current role as Senior Director of Suicide Prevention Initiatives at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, she served as a front-line Psychologist in a Department of Veterans Affairs behavioral health clinic. Known to many veterans as “Doc Springer,” she has helped hundreds of warriors reconnect with their tribe, strengthen their most important relationships, and build lives that are driven by their deepest values.
The TAPS Suicide Prevention and Postvention Team offers a range of resources, programs and events as well as expert subject matter training and consultation for organizations and providers. To learn more: https://www.taps.org/suicidepostvention.