Searching for the Next Goal Line

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 24, 2009


Not so long ago, you wouldn't have needed to ask Peter Boulware what brought purpose to his life. Purpose was a three-point stance, a speed-rush and a quarterback planted in the turf. Purpose was staying strong, staying healthy, staying paid. Off the NFL field, where he spent eight seasons, made four Pro Bowl teams and won a Super Bowl, purpose was starting a family, socking away some money, trying to set the Boulwares up for life.

But now? With his playing days behind him, and the family and the finances both as beautiful and healthy as can be, it's the question that hovers over Boulware, the question that makes him flinch -- the question, really, that every retired athlete has to confront: What brings purpose to life now, when the game has used you up but when, by conventional measures, you're still so young and so rich?

Boulware, 34, contemplates the question. He is sitting at his kitchen table, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, with nowhere else he needs to be. Purpose, at this very moment, is a glass of iced tea and some central air conditioning.

Since his retirement from football, personal life has revolved around family -- wife Kensy and their four children, whose ages range from 5 months to 6 years -- while professional life has been built around the Toyota dealership for which he is a vice president and part-owner, as well as a surprising run for the Florida House of Representatives last fall. But the dealership is more an investment than a career and he lost his maiden political race, leaving him uncertain if he wants to do it again.

"One of the toughest things for athletes, or men in general," Boulware says, "is to have something outside the household that you can say, 'This is what I'm good at.' Being a pro athlete, you've always been the best at what you do, so you want to get into a field where you can be the best, not just average. Finding that field, I think, is where most guys have their toughest struggle.

"I believe I can be a good husband and a good father to my kids. But getting outside that arena and finding something where I can say I'm the best at, that's hard to find. I can't say I've actually found that yet."

Rare is the athlete who does find it. In the last 10 to 15 years -- since the first waves of multimillionaire athletes, beneficiaries of the big-money free agent era of professional sports, began reaching retirement -- the news is full of stories of squandered fortunes, aimless lives, failed marriages and mental-health issues. Few retired athletes, it seems, are good at the game of life.

According to the NFL Players Association, the average NFL player's career lasts about 3 1/2 years, and by some estimations as many as 80 percent of retired players endure either divorce or bankruptcy, the majority of those within two years of retirement.

For any athlete, purpose number one ought to be avoiding either of those.

"I'm a Christian," Boulware says. "So my purpose and direction come from God. I believe my first purpose is to be a good husband to my wife, and a good father to my kids. God has blessed me financially. I can be [home] in the middle of the day and spend time with my kids. Anything beyond that is extra for me."

The Political Arena

There's not as much weight at the ends of the barbells as there used to be -- or between Boulware's neck and waist, for that matter. He is down 30 pounds from his playing weight. He lifts about 75 percent of what he once did, and resists the impulse to think of himself, by extension, as 75 percent of the man he once was.

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