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Success Beyond the Game: Ken Ruettgers at The Bridge to Success

By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider

Ken Ruettgers knows what it means to find meaning after football.  After a successful 11-year NFL career, the former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle (1985-1996) went back to school to earn an MBA and a PhD and founded the nonprofit to help athletes transition after retirement.

“Transition can feel like falling off the backside of a cliff,” Ruettgers said, speaking to more than 150 NFL Legends at the NFL’s The Bridge to Success. “But after football, you can do greater things than you ever did when you were playing.  You have more time, more networking potential, and more opportunities than you ever had when you were playing. Every level has been a part of transition. It wasn’t easy – but you made it so far… You have achieved amazing things.” 

Ruettgers laid out the three seasons of an athlete’s life:

  1. Sport Career
  2. Transition
  3. Success Beyond the Game

Football is a unique mixture of amazingly wonderful beauty (Eros) and darkness (Thanatos).

“What motivated you to work harder than everyone else?  What gave you the fire?” he asked.  “At the time, it feels great. When the game is over, those things end. Looking back, it seems like it was great.”

And when the game is over, the transition can be hard. 

“I haven’t met a player who left without having at least a little bit of unfinished business – that’s normal,” he explained. “But there are still challenges. I have heard fans ask, ‘Didn’t you used to be Ken Ruettgers?’ It’s a time of identity foreclosure – when you think of yourself only as that person – for NFL players it is as that player or that image.”

Ruettgers offered the acronym RISE for understanding a player’s time in the NFL:






“You were recruited, insulated, supported, and entitled during your career. That makes transition even harder and it can lead to depression and more,” he explained. “That ends when you are out of the game and that can lead to a series of challenges.”

Ruettgers outlined the top 10 challenges of transition:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Depression
  4. Identity
  5. Structure
  6. Isolation
  7. Addiction
  8. Money –
  9. Marriage
  10. Mission/Purpose

Ruettgers encouraged NFL Legends to think through the challenges of their transition to help them identify the obstacles that stand in their way to success beyond the game.

“Success beyond the game is why we are here,” he said. “This is your transition and the success of your transition depends mostly on you. Your next career does not have to be the career you have for the rest of your life. You can commit to something for six months… for 30 days even. Be brave, be courageous, be adventurous, try something… bridge the gap… walk across to the other side. Use The Bridge to Success to move beyond the liminal space of transition to your future on the other side.

“Your opportunity at The Bridge to Success is real and it could get messy. The more committed you are to the messiness, the better your future can be.”

The Bridge to Success is an annual event to help players to successfully transition from the NFL toward the rest of their lives.  For more information email or check out this video:

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