The Death of the "The Dream": The Experience of the Loss of a Central Identity Among Professional
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Using Norman Goodman's (2001) outline for a research program on the effect of a failure in a central identity for a person's sense of self, and Daniel Levinson's (1978) focus on the concept of 'The Dream' as an important element of adult identity, I have undertaken a preliminary research study of how professional athletes experience the transition away from their strong central identity at the end of their professional sports careers. Using survey data from former professional baseball and football players as well as lengthy follow-up interviews, I sought to identify factors that influence this transition process and determine whether there are commonalities among those who make this transition with relative ease or difficulty. The study considered such factors as: career length, the athlete's educational attainment, how the athlete's career ended, the extent to which the athlete clings to his previous identity, and the differences in the sports' organizational structures. I also drew upon selected memoirs of former professional players and the work of other sociological and social psychological studies of athletes to present some insights into the emotionally charged and intensely personal experience of losing one's central identity and the difficulties in replacing it. I also introduce the concept of 'the nostalgic self' as an alternative to both the 'abandoned self' and 'not yet abandoned self' as a way in which former athletes retain a portion of their former identity without either renouncing their past or holding onto it so tightly that it prevents their moving forward. The study found only modest support for whether the respondents' educational attainment and how their athletic career ended had a relationship with the ease of their transition into a new career identity. There was, however, a striking difference in the experiences between athletes of different generations. These differences seem to be attributable to the significant changes in professional sports brought about by free agency. The project's results also point to possible future areas of study regarding the transition.