At least seven NFL players have died violently – such as from self-inflicted gunshots – since 2010. Some are quick to blame concussions and head trauma. Others point to substance abuse.

Beyond those possibilities, there’s one underlying theme to an athlete’s downfall off the field – transition.

Athletes struggle with transition, and Jes Leonard, a fourth-year West Virginia University doctoral student in counseling psychology, says they tend to get “stuck in identity foreclosure” outside the realm of sports.

Leonard, of Avenue, Md., was quoted recently in an Al-Jazeera article examining the challenges NFL players face when they transition to non-football life.

Her current research explores collegiate student-athletes and the Theory of Work Adjustment, which links an individual and his or her needs to a work environment.

“Transition out of sport for student-athletes can be viewed as a loss,” said Leonard, who played college soccer. “Research has found that strong athletic identity is correlated with low career maturity. Student-athletes are usually not able to/choose not to put forth time and effort into finding a career out of sport—they are stuck in identity foreclosure.”

In conducting research for her dissertation, “Theory of Work Adjustment and Student-Athletes’ Transition out of Sport,” Leonard is speaking with professionals who work with collegiate athletes directly, including counseling/clinical psychologists, sport psychology consultants and academic advisers.

Leonard, who earned her master’s degree in sport psychology, is hopeful that her research can help better prepare athletes for their journeys outside the stadiums and arenas.

“Transition out of sport is inevitable,” she said. “For some, the transition comes with graduation, for others, retirement from professional sports. For collegiate-athletes, a majority of student-athletes will end their competitive career at graduation, which is likened to a retirement from sports. Therefore, this is something that can be planned for; we have the opportunity and duty to help assist these athletes and the assistance can begin before the transition takes place.”

Leonard is available to speak to media. She can be reached at (240) 298-3041 or



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