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Evolution Exclusive: NFL debuts transition initiative for ex-players

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

The NFL has been paying special attention to players after they finish their careers.

The league already had been active in the past decade, creating the Player Engagement department and assigning representatives to every NFL team, but it went one step further earlier this year with its transition initiative. NFL Evolution provides an exclusive look at the program, which has 13 recently retired players go through extensive training and become certified to assist colleagues in the areas of mental and behavioral health.

The turning point to create such a program was the death of players such as Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher, said Troy Vincent, the NFL's senior vice president for player engagement.

"Just a year that no one wants to think about, what happened off the field with some of our men and the lives that are no longer here," Vincent told NFL Network chief health and player safety correspondent Andrea Kremer. "There was a lot of evaluation and just kind of turning back the clock and see(ing) what could we do better."

Former players Donovin Darius, LaVar Arrington, Mike Haynes and Irving Fryar are among the 13 transition coaches. All needed 56 hours of in-person training during nine months of courses to become certified.

Transition coaches were taught how to work with current and former players and their families. The curriculum included courses on substance abuse, domestic violence, gun safety and suicide prevention.

"Regardless of what's happened in the past, this is something that's needed," former linebacker Dwight Hollier said, "and a great opportunity for us to make a difference."

Two months after graduating, the transition coaches used their skills at the NFL Rookie Symposium in June. Rather than addressing an auditorium full of rookies, many of the coaches used smaller breakout groups to tackle tough topics.

"I know a lot of rookies come in here and like they're saying I don't want to be here," Seattle Seahawks rookie cornerback Tharold Simon said. "... But once you really just sit down and listen, you're like, 'I'm really learning a lot, the stuff I really need.' "

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