Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah Noonan; Thomas Fish; Derrick Crim


This phenomenological qualitative research study investigated the experiences of professional athletes as they ended their athletic careers, transitioned to retirement, and resumed their life as private citizens. The purpose of this study was to expose the hidden side of a professional athletic career, and describe what happens after athletes leave “fame and fortune” and return to a more private life. Eight retired professional athletes participated in this study. Athletes described their dream of playing a professional sport from childhood, and the reality they experienced once they became professional athletes. Athletes quickly learned the business side of professional sports, including their value to the team as a “commodity.” Athletes led a regimented lifestyle to prepare for and participate in professional sports. This lifestyle affected them during their athletic career, and in their initial adjustment to retirement. Athletes struggled to find time to prepare for retirement. Those with a plan fared better than others. The circumstances concerning the end of a professional athletic career influenced the transition to a new life. Injuries ended the career of six of the participants’ careers, one participant was cut from a team and another chose to end his career. Those injured learned the cost of professional athletics well into their retirement. Role exit theory (Ebaugh, 1988) explained how circumstances concerning retirement (voluntary or involuntary) affected the adjustment to retirement. To retire successfully, a professional athlete must create a new identify (Burke & Stets, 2009) as a private citizen.


Professional athletes, retirement, role exit, identity

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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