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A Second Wind

Every professional athlete faces retirement. But after these four bowed out, they found success in new careers, applying the same talent and work ethic that made them sports stars.
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

(continued from page 2)

He has thought about moving to Florida and enjoying the good life, he says, but he knows he'd miss the camaraderie. All those people he has known for years, laughing and talking with him, letting him know how much they appreciate him. He stops and stands under the street sign that bears his name, looking out past the Easton Road to the water roaring over the dam. It's as if he is trying to picture himself in Florida: starting over beneath the palm trees, living off those interest checks. "At one time, I was thinking of Jacksonville...." he says. He doesn't finish the thought.

Darkness is falling. Soon the familiar crowd will start coming by, along with any tourists hoping for a glimpse of the champ. He emerges from his reverie. "Go down to the restaurant, say hello, have a party, have fun, buy everybody a drink," he says, announcing his plan for the evening. You almost hear him thinking, "What could be better than that?"

Steve Largent
NFL Hall of Famer/U.S. congressman/President and CEO

The president and chief executive officer of CTIA—The Wireless Association strides into a conference room. He seems trim and boyish in a lime-green tie, his blond hair swept to one side of his forehead.

Don't be fooled. Steve Largent is 50 now. His football career spanned two eras. When he arrived in the Seattle Seahawks' training camp in 1976, playing wide receiver in the NFL was a part-time profession. "My first three years, I made $28,000, $35,000 and $42,000," he says. "My last year in the league, I made a million. I got to experience what it was like to have to work in the off-season because I needed to. But I also got to experience making some money."

Largent left football at 34. He came home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with six NFL records for pass receiving, including most career receptions (819) and touchdown receptions (100), and more than enough money to be comfortable. He played golf and tennis, gave speeches and nearly drove himself crazy. All that competitiveness he'd stoked since childhood now had nowhere to manifest itself.

"A lot of guys think, 'I just want to find something I can dabble in,' but you really can't," he says. "That's why Dan Marino considered taking the general manager's job with the Dolphins. You see, a guy like that, he's really not satisfied playing a lot of golf, taking some photos, talking on television. At the end of the day, he's still an ex-football player."

Largent couldn't handle that. He refused to let himself be defined by the past. Inspired to do something that would lift him out of the realm of ex-athletes on the motivational speaking circuit, Largent ran for Congress as a Republican in 1994.

He doesn't deny that his football career gave him a tremendous lift, allowing him to bypass the local and state levels. His near-total name recognition among the voters saved him millions of dollars and jump-started the fund-raising process. Who wouldn't want to take a breakfast meeting with an NFL Hall of Famer?

But he also had a stigma to overcome. "Being a professional athlete is a two-edged sword," he says. "Every year you're playing in the NFL, you're not gaining the kind of experience that your competitors and colleagues are. They're into the marketplace, they're adding to their business résumés, they're moving up the corporate ladder, while you're stuck at ground zero. And when you come out, your résumé shows that you've done nothing but catch passes. You can do that very well, but how does that translate? People say, 'What do you know about Medicaid and Social Security? What do you know about diplomacy and world leaders? Zero.' "

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