Pete Carroll: We need to help players find purpose after football

As Ricardo Lockette held a news conference to announce his retirement last week, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took a seat in the first row alongside reporters to hear what the former wide receiver had to say and offer his support.

Lockette's life changed on Nov. 1. He suffered a career-ending neck injury while covering a punt against the Dallas Cowboys. At the age of 29, Lockette is facing a period of dramatic transition.

"I feel like I should be sitting out there with my tights on, getting ready to do some extra work now, getting ready to catch some balls, go run some extra laps," Lockette said.

His injury is unique, but the challenge he faces next is one shared by players every offseason as they are forced to figure out what to do after football is no longer an option for them. And according to Carroll, teams need to do a better job of helping players face that challenge head-on.

"When these guys are football players, they are football players from the time they are 8, 9 years old," Carroll said. "And they grow up loving the game, believing in the game and connecting almost their life with the game of football. For all of us, it comes to an end. It stops somewhere. That identity, that just embedded connection with the game all of a sudden is over, in a sense, and you are not recognized as a football guy anymore, and the purpose of your life has been built around football.

"Well, the transition our players need to make between that and finding purpose in our life beyond football is a crucial, crucial transition to respect. And [vice president of player engagement] Mo [Kelly] is leading and [director of player health and performance] Sam Ramsden and those guys are working really hard to help our players get prepared for finding and helping our players get a purpose that maybe they may have lost a sense of. Some guys are fine. A lot of guys aren't. So we've made a really big deal about it. We are trying to do everything we can. We have a long ways to go before we can really figure out how to support our guys. But I think that there is nothing more important than recognizing the tremendous value that these guys bring to the game, and not with just their play on the field but the spirit that they bring to it. We need to be there for them when they are done and help them connect and find whatever their purpose is, to live a great life after football.

"We have a lot of guys that have problems; we have a lot of numbers to support that. And we all could do a much better job. That's why I am so proud of Mo and Sam for recognizing that we have to find our ways to connect. It's not just, 'OK, here's a job when you get out.' It's a mentality that you build through the time that they are here so that when they are faced with the transition, they are ready to take the proper steps to be successful and find the proper meaning that is so important. So we are really tuned into it. ...We have a lot of responsibility here, in my opinion."

Lockette said he's not quite sure what the future holds. Someone suggested media, and he seemed to at least be curious about the possibility. He shared several ideas about service initiatives -- helping the homeless, children in need and victims of domestic violence. He said Carroll has been like a "dad" to him and singled out Kelly specifically as someone who has helped him find his way.

"The great thing about this organization is we have a very special guy named Mo Kelly," Lockette said. "He talked to us about life and life after football every day, in preparation. So from day one, we’re prepared to leave. We’re prepared for the next step. 'Hey, save your money. Hey, look into this. Hey, you should listen to this guy. This guy’s a great mentor.' This organization prepares you for life after football, prepares you for the obstacles you face during your career. They prepared me really well, so when it happened, it was like, 'Hey, now it’s time to put Plan B into action.'"

Added Carroll, "It's extraordinarily difficult to make this transition ... so we need to prepare them to get prepared. You can't do it, you can't really face it until you get there. Like I said, some guys are fine. But the great majority of guys need to reconnect, and that's what we are getting them prepared for. It's everything from finance to counseling to culture shift. There's just so many things that we are dealing with. We are just trying to elevate their awareness."