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A conversation with former Steelers QB Charlie Batch: Part 2 - His transition to post-NFL life

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I recently spoke with former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch about his foundation, life post-NFL, and his football career. This is the second of three installments on the former Steelers QB.

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"Everything has to come to an end, sometime." - L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

"I knew this game would possibly be the last I'd ever start. That was tough. I had a sense at the end that that would be it," Charlie Batch was telling me about his victory over the Ravens on December 2, 2012. It was the last game he started, and would have been even if he had stayed with the Steelers for the next two years. "If I were still there, I wouldn't have started again," he stated. "Ben hasn't missed any games."

The way Batch said "this game" made his final game seem as if though it were in the very recent past. Or, perhaps even something that was yet to happen. Batch seemed simultaneously entrenched in his career and far removed from it.

The spring and summer after his retirement were a difficult and surreal adjustment. "I had to pass the facility every day to and from the foundation," he said referring to his commute from his home to the foundation where he spends twelve-hour days helping the children of Homestead. "I told myself, ‘It's OK, I'm not a football player, but I'm going to get through.'"

Then, his first post-career April rolled around. "It's time to get back to off season conditioning, but it wasn't any more," he said. May OTAs and then a month off. He said he caught himself in July thinking, "Wait! I'm supposed to be in camp." Then the preseason and the regular season. "I was supposed to be there," he recalled thinking.

After driving by the facility daily and struggling with all of those football benchmarks that had been part of his life for over a decade, he said to himself, "Stop. You're not that guy any more."

This transition from 'that guy' into the post-NFL unknown was inevitable. "I was thirty-eight," he said. I knew the end was coming. His work with the Batch Foundation also made things somewhat easier.

Batch ended up doing Steelers Radio Network as a way to stay close to the game, but that, too, was an adjustment. "For 11 years I was on the sidelines. Now, when I walk into the stadium, I had to use a different door. I had to park far away. I never knew what the stadium looked like after 11 am for a 1 pm game. I used to drive straight to the gate. This is different." he told me, mixing past and present tenses as if he were simultaneously fully adjusted to his new reality and reliving the initial strangeness of it all.

"You're separating from something you've been doing since you were seven," he shared.

At this point, he began to shift from speaking about his own experience to the realities that face all NFL players. From the time players begin their NFL career, they have no predetermined road-map for the first time in their lives. A career can end at anytime, and the end of the typical player's career can be one of the most overwhelming and confusing transitions of his life.

"High school for four years. Then five years to play four in college. You hit the NFL and you are a year-to-year player," he explained. "You get cut. You're still waiting on the call. Time elapses."

Many players' retirements start haphazardly. Initially, they are at home waiting for a call that never comes, Then, maybe they hold out hope and train for the next season. It ends up being a season that doesn't end up involve them. Reality sinks in, but much time has elapsed and players can feel confused and overwhelmed when they first face seeking another career.

Batch has insight into these experiences because of his own career as a professional football player, and also because of his role as the Senior Captain for the Players Trust, a new initiative that was hammered out as part of the 2014 Collective Bargaining Agreement. In fact, Batch helped negotiate these particular deals with the owners as a way to help players.

His work as Senior Captain is not symbolic. Just as Batch spends long days at his foundation with the kids of Homestead, he is also very involved with The Trust.  Preparation for that work even included training in suicide assessment and intervention.

It is common for a player's identity and sense of purpose to be almost entirely rooted in football and on-field achievements. Their source of motivation lies in the hope and anticipation of something greater. Suddenly all of that is gone and they need to navigate the adjustment from superhero on the field to regular guy. Facing the reality of retirement can be terrifying, confusing, and even sad-- giving up a lifelong sport and team camaraderie is a type of loss.

Batch said, "Players have been told ‘You're great at football.' Not anything else."

The Trust helps players transition smoothly into all aspects of post-NFL life, describing itself as "an organization committed to a former player's well being." It provides support, resources, and referrals for issues related to career, education, finances, lifestyle, personal interaction, and brain/body health. Batch explained, "Before The Trust, it wasn't like the corporate world where HR comes to you. You're cut and that's it."

"Before The Trust," Batch continued, "when former players fell into that dark path, there was nobody to talk to them. Now,we get that list [of retired and released players], contact them, and meet them where they are at." The Trust is the first line of communication after a player's time with the NFL ends. Often, it is Charlie Batch calling these players personally to offer support and explain the program benefits. Since its inception at the end of 2014, The Trust has helped over 1,100 players.

Batch is certainly a great role model for players who struggle to find a sense of direction after the NFL. In addition to working with his foundation, Steelers Radio Network, commentary for KDKA this upcoming season, and The Trust, Batch has a sports medicine technology startup called Impellia. The startup helps universities commercialize innovations so that potentially life-changing concepts and cutting-edge research can be transformed into products that can help consumers sooner.

Batch is also enthusiastic about his public speaking engagements. While he customizes his speeches to the audience, his general theme is to expect your best by being ready, resilient, and a pro. He has shared his message with many organizations including the United Way, LaRoche College, and Eastern Michigan University.

Batch was right when he told himself, "Stop, you're not that guy anymore." ‘That guy' isn't on the sidelines. Instead, 'that guy' has evolved into an entrepreneur, mentor, commentator, public speaker, and hero to Homestead all while cultivating his role as husband to his wife LaTasha Wilson-Batch and human to their five dogs.

Everything does indeed come to an end, but the end brings with it the possibility of a new beginnings. Charlie Batch has certainly had many new beginnings since Pittsburgh Steelers fans witnessed the end of his football career.

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For the first part of the Charlie Batch series, you can access the article below:
A conversation with former Steelers QB Charlie Batch: Part 1 - His Purpose

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For more information on Charlie Batch and his work, please visit

www.batchfoundation.org
www.charliebatch.com