The NFL's annual Bridge to Success program was held in Grapevine, Texas, October 16-19, 2016. It's an event centered around helping former NFL players and their spouses with the transition to life after football.
The First and Last Games
Keith Elias can remember most everything about his first NFL game with the New York Giants.
That day was 22 years ago.
"I grew up in New Jersey, played high school ball in the state, played college in the state, then played my first game in the state," Elias said.
"I looked up in the stands and saw people I'd grown up with," he said. "It was overwhelming. I felt like I had made it."
Fast forward to his last professional football game.
"You never think a game is going to be your last game," Elias said. "It took me a whole season not being on a team to fully realize my time on the field was over."
The Rest of a Player's Life
Today, Keith Elias is Director of Former Players Transition and Programs for NFL Player Engagement.
He recently led the NFL's annual player transition program—Bridge to Success—in Grapevine, Texas. More than 170 former players and their spouses and significant others participated in the program, which addresses the physical, psychological and social aspects associated with transitioning out of the game.
This year's event included new sessions dedicated to spouses and significant others. It also included sessions to discuss career development, family relationships, fitness and nutrition, as well as financial success.
"God didn't make anybody to be just a football player," Elias said. "We spend a lot more time away from the game than we do playing the game."
"These guys are trying to figure out how to integrate into a world with everyone else," he said. "Sometimes that can be humbling—and we all need support and encouragement from time to time."
"Every player eventually faces the challenge of transition, and no athlete should go it alone," said Arthur McAfee, NFL Senior Vice President of Player Engagement. "We share a responsibility with our athletes in working together to utilize the tools and resources to set them on the path to a successful transition."
The Success of "Bridge to Success"
"There was a real excitement and passion to our gathering in Grapevine," Keith Elias said. "These guys came ready to explore their story, their relationships, their skill sets—for today and their future."
For many former players, these Bridge to Success events are the first time they're focused on the programs and resources available to them through the NFL.
"I've since received emails that told me: 'Leaving the NFL left me with such uncertainty. Now, this meeting has helped me to light the fire in my life again,'" he said.
A Launching Pad
Keith Elias described his team of Transition Coaches who work with former players as a group of "world-changers."
"These are men who are passionate about people," he said. "They are ready to help change somebody's world for the better."
"A key to these Bridge to Success meetings is that it isn't four days and you're done," Elias said.
"Every attendee is assigned a transitional coach and they navigate life together for the next three months," he said. "The weekend is not a one-and-done lightning bolt moment—it's a launching pad, the beginning of a relationship."