A Former Player's Thoughts on Managing a Social Life in Middle of NFL Season

Ryan RiddleCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2012

Chad Johnson's social life may have contributed to his demise in New England
Chad Johnson's social life may have contributed to his demise in New EnglandElsa/Getty Images

If a social life in the middle of an NFL season is in fact “alive” at all, then it must be nearing death by way of starvation and neglect. Feeding a thriving social life in the middle of the season is either impossible or one of the fastest possible ways to earn an early retirement.

There may be some decent chunks of time away from officially being on the clock, but if that time routinely fails to be utilized for increased success weekly, then you’re likely falling behind in a race for any competitive edge in the most brutal team sport in the country.

Typically, the in-season schedule forces guys to dramatically reduce, if not altogether eliminate their social life. This applies to any social life outside of what becomes your extended family of teammates, guys who you eventually end up spending at least 85 percent of your waking hours surrounded by.

With practice, traveling, film study, meetings, weightlifting, family and teammates all taking up nearly every second of your existence, it becomes a struggle to make time for anything else. But let’s keep in mind that everyone prioritizes time differently. Some players choose to maintain a more active social life.

One thing we all know for sure, Peyton Manning is not dedicating a whole lot of time to an in-season social life. But on the flip side, punters and kickers have all the free time in the world and need very little preparation for a game, so as a result, they’re almost always home early while the rest of the team is still in meetings late into the evening.

Every NFL player on an active roster will fall somewhere between on these two extremely contrasting examples. 

Personally, I’ve always had the recluse in me to contend with, so I would usually dedicate my free time to either family or relaxation before another long day.

Most players haven’t lived in their current city long enough to have formed many friendships outside of teammates. Social options tend to be limited only to this isolated environment. For most of the year this is less exaggerated and thus perfectly fine, but during the season, it’s important to understand that even the most enjoyable relationships need some time apart.

After all, it should be easy to understand how spending rare and valuable windows of leisure time with a guy you already see all day is far less appealing than spending it by taking your mind completely away from anything related to work.

Let us not forget that you also have all the games and traveling throughout the season, which can pose a unique set of problems for NFL athletes in regard to a social life.

At least a few times during a season, a player will fly into a particular city where they have a friend or two. During these visits, many rendezvous requests flood in. Meanwhile, the actual travel schedule for each player is extremely tight and pretty much spoken for.

But from the perspective of people from the past who simply want a moment of your time, reluctance on the part of their famous athlete friend can be rather insulting. Often, this “snubbing” causes people from the past to label the newly established celebrity as someone who has forgotten the people he grew up with.

This busy schedule is perceived in a light many refer to as “big-timing.”

If you get a friend tickets to the game, you then have to decide whether you can or desire to meet up with them afterwards, which is always the hope of anyone you hooked up with tickets. As for your closest friends, who are basically like family already, this issue rarely applies.

But when you play in the NFL, you must remember that your network of “friends” will grow significantly, and as it grows, so do their expectations. The weight of these new demands on your time can be quite maddening for one who has a habit of making sure everyone around them is happy.

I never understood how guys were able to drink and party all night long after playing an entire football game. Not that there’s anything wrong it, but the last thing I want to do after a game is exude even more physical energy I don’t have, dancing and partying it up. I always preferred a more subdued form of celebrating a completed work week following a game.

Rest is a top priority and valuable resource during the season; a social life can really put a dent in that if you’re not careful. After a few seasons in the league, you quickly learn that meeting every demand from the outside world simply isn’t feasible despite those who believe otherwise.

I cannot speak for other players when I say this, but despite the countless hours spent living and breathing football, I never recall actually being sick of the game itself. The lack of time to do anything else is what really eats away at you.

As the holiday season speeds by, you really start to feel the void in your life grow from not having the time or energy to give of yourself to anything beyond surviving the grind.

So as this dilemma eats at you from the inside, the tough football player exterior is adapted to project composure and tranquility, even as the urge to deviate focus augments.

So what do you do to combat this?

The same thing you do when squatting 500 pounds is too heavy: You hold your breath, suck it up and just push through the pain. Prolonged life in the NFL is predicated upon one’s ability to persevere on every level imaginable. Consider it an ultimate prerequisite to membership.

It’s funny how the NFL works sometimes. For as much as I gave of myself to the sport during my time in the league, it always seemed typical that I was quickly put in my place.

During my rookie year with the Oakland Raiders, we were given scouting report packets of our opponents which featured a page after page of valuable information on players and tendencies. In addition to the scouting reports, we were also given a couple of DVDs of special teams cut-ups and expected to watch each one.

I liked to wait to watch tape and study tendencies until the game was a day or two away so that the information was more fresh in my mind. This also helped me to not overload myself during the tougher practice days (Wednesdays and Thursdays) in the middle of the week, thus leaving a few hours in the night to socialize.

Well, this was not how things were expected to be done in the NFL.

In this particular instance, during a meeting the day after getting our scouting reports, the special teams coach (the late Joe Avezzano) called me out on not watching tape by asking me what the hidden message said, which was inserted in the cut-up for that particular week.

Apparently the coaching staff felt that some guys weren’t watching the DVDs, so he put a test in there to find out. Unfortunately, I was the scapegoat that day.

I tried to explain to him when I prefer to watch tape, but this was not a viable excuse considering expectations are to have all the opponent's tendencies and concepts down before you take the practice field.

I never put that type of pursuit for perfection in my practice habits. For me, they were always a function to test and experiment with new strategies, not to be mistake-free.

But for the NFL, every moment you spend “living life” is a moment spent away from bettering your craft.

Friends and family can wait 'til the season is over.