Yes, I know these are not Charger players or players at the Charger training camp. That does not matter for this editorial, because no later than Tuesday the 27th and then again on the 31st, the Chargers will also decide the end of careers and which young men’s (boys, really) lifelong dreams come to an end.
For Shiancoe, a 10 year veteran tight end, it is unlikely that any other NFL team will ever pay him to play football again in his life. At the age of 33, a lot of men are just settling into their career path and beginning to see the potential payoff or are well established into mastering their professions and moving up in responsibility and compensation. For Shiancoe, his days in professional football are likely done.
I often imagine what it would be like for an NFL player with 10 years' service to come to the end of the line. You started playing the game when you were a boy. You got good at it and came to love playing it by the time you got to high school; loving it enough to be concerned about your diet, working out, spending hours a day practicing and improving. You were probably the best player on your high school team, one of the better players (if not the best) on your college team, and the NFL beckoned. What had started out as a game and something you really loved to do, and were really good at, is now your livelihood.
Then, the center of your life for over 20 years is gone. I know that any imagination I have for how that feels is far short of what the actual experience is.
Shiancoe should actually be in a better position than most former NFL players. In 2007, he signed a contract with the Vikings for $18.2 Million and played through it, rewarding the Vikings with two superb seasons and another three seasons of decent, if unspectacular performance. He has stated before that he wants to open a Liberian–themed restaurant, and in the mid-Atlantic area, with a thriving West African immigrant community and Shiancoe’s potential capital behind it, he may have success. He also has a pension of $51,000 a year starting at age 55 and potentially other medical benefits for retired players available.
For Ramon Harewood, the story is quite a bit different. The 2010 6th–round pick spent 2010 and 2011 on IR after suffering season–ending injuries in training camp (2010) and pre-season (2011). He did start five games for the Ravens in 2012, the last year of his rookie contract. The Ravens re–signed him for $800,000, with a $320,000 signing bonus. While Shiancoe (hopefully) has some of the millions he earned in his 10 year career saved up, the now–unemployed 26–year–old–guard probably does not have that much in the bank.
With another 28+ years left before he is able to draw on a $1,500–a–month NFL pension, Harewood will be in the job market soon. The former physics major and Barbados native may have career opportunities in the future, but the NFL and game of football are now probably in the past. Harewood came late to football, so from a mental perspective the loss of the game — while major in terms of potential earnings — may not be as large a disappointment as it is for others.
Damien Berry, the son of Kenny Berry (a running back for the 'Canes in the late 80's), Damien also played his college ball at Miami. He signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Berry’s career, for which there is not one single statistic, is likely over. No three years of service, no pension to look forward to, and only a reference to IR and practice squad participation to tell his grandchildren. Coming from an athletic family, the dream of the NFL most likely came early to Damien. Now after two years of being on the fringe, that dream is over.
For a 23 year old man, chasing after that goal since Pop Warner, the regret and frustration has to be profound. No listing for the young man’s degree could be found when I was researching this article. I did find references to his arrest in June for failure to appear on multiple traffic citations and driving on a suspended license. Hopefully, Mr. Berry will discover another dream and go on to live a productive life.
For Rashaad Carter, his dream is over before it really started to look like it could come true. The former star at Division II Tusculum College (it’s in Tennessee) knew that he was facing an uphill battle when he signed as a free agent with Baltimore in May. Now, after not even making it to the team’s 4th exhibition game, he will need to put his Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Broadcasting to work and join those of us that did not have enough athletic talent to even make our high school teams.
As you read through the soon–to–be–coming reports on the 27th (or before) and the 31st, understand that real people are named in those reports. Know that you are seeing the end of professional careers, the best opportunity these young men may have for the good life, or THE DREAM (so close to coming true) of a young life. And before you complete the thought of "well, he was done anyway" or "he really sucks", remember…
Remember the veteran that made the tackle or the catch you’ll never forget. Remember the guy that was special in that bowl game and that you thought could make it in the NFL. Remember seeing the injury report or watching the replay of the injury on Sports Center. Remember thinking that the local boy you heard about when he was in high school, a man among boys, was something special. Truth be told, as football players they all were special at some point. Even more importantly, they will always be special men in the eyes of their friends, family, and former teammates, long after their names appear in a list of cuts.