On Lisa Leslie: Do Pro-Athletes Need to Think About Work Life Fit?

Lisa Leslie, the most famous star in the WNBA, is retiring.  The headline in Tuesday’s New York Times piece notes that at 37, Leslie “decided to retire after playing this season, saying it was difficult to balance being an athlete, wife and mother.”

“I love being a mom,” said Leslie, whose mother, Christine, drove a truck to support her and her two sisters. “I think the best part about it is every morning when I go into her [two year old daughter’s] room and see her smile, and when I smile at her, she just says, ‘I’m happy.’ She’s just so smart. I enjoy teaching her. She does her ABC’s. She can count to 50.”

It’s wonderful to think of Leslie’s life after basketball- imagine what the first woman to dunk in professional sports will impart to her children.

But it begs the larger question: what does work life fit look like for professional athletes, who have such a small window to make their names, and their livings?  Is it an all or nothing kind of work life, because life as a pro-athlete is so unusually short lived?

An article in Bloomberg News asks the question to pro-athletes facing retirement, “What’s next”? In the up or out cycle of pro sports,

“Forgotten, though, are players on the way out. Who prepares them for what could be a 60-year retirement? Perhaps leagues and unions ought to mimic the mentor model, only this time hook up accomplished retired athletes like, say, Magic Johnson, with an active player.

General managers and coaches care about winning. That’s it. A player’s ability to cope with retirement isn’t high on any coach’s list of priorities.”

The third chapter, as Sara Lawrence Lightfoot calls it, is a big topic among those who study Americans at work. The sociologist finds those in their 50s, 60’s who are taking on “encore careers” and finding ways to have productive lives beyond the career they originally trained for. I expect to see work life professionals increasingly focusing on preparing the work force for the third chapter. But when the third chapter comes when you’re still in your thirties, it must be a jarring transition.

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