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Post-NFL, Collins Is 'Transition' Player

Former Redskins linebacker Andre Collins spent a lot of time over the last five years thinking about the fate of retired NFL players.

Having been through the transition from adored athlete to unemployed civilian himself, he knew it was a lot harder than expected even for those who were prepared.

In his new position of Director of Retired Players with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), Collins will be working on ways to make the transition out of football smoother and easier for retirees.

"Over the past five years, I had been thinking a lot about retired players and some of the things that could be done to help ease players through the transition out of the NFL," Collins offered from his Washington, D.C. office. "I think those last couple of years in the league moving forward into retirement can be difficult for a player.

"You go through a lot of emotional, psychological and physical changes from being a celebrated athlete to an uncelebrated civilian. 'Out of site, out of mind' happens very quickly when you are an athlete. That got me thinking about all the different support strategies."

Collins had always been active with the NFLPA dating back to his playing days in the Nation's Capitol as a member of the Redskins. "I've always kept in touch with (Executive Director) Gene (Upshaw) and living here in the Washington area, I've always had a relationship with the Union.

"I got wind that the job of Director of Retired Players was available so I put in my application. I made it to the final round and interviewed with Gene."

The experience Collins gained away from football, working in the hectic world of an emergency room, helped set him apart from the other candidates and he was hired in June.

"Gene thought I would be a nice fit because he says I got the football beat out of me the last five years running the Emergency Center at Virginia Hospital Center," Collins joked. "I don't think I'll ever have a tougher job than working at that emergency room."

Collins takes over the Director of Retired Players position vacated in 2002 following the retirement of Frank Woschitz who served the NFLPA for over 25 years. Woschitz was integral in the development of the Retired Players Association which Collins now heads.

"Frank did such a great job of setting the platform for all those years," Collins offered. "Now it's time to move it into the 21st Century and give the players more value from being a retired NFL player. We're going to try to create some things in the program that will make it an exclusive club and give the players more value so they want to participate and be more involved."

Working closely with local chapters across the country, Collins and his staff hope to develop more of a "family" atmosphere amongst retired players.

"Some of our goals are to increase membership and increase the number of chapters we have, but more importantly, we want to improve the morale and build camaraderie between the players and the chapters and from chapter-to-chapter," Collins said. "A lot of players feel kind of like they are left out in the cold after they retire. That's not a function of the Retired Players Department, it's just the nature of the NFL.

"It's our jobs to make them feel good about having played and being a retired player and getting back into the fold. Once you are a player you are always a player."

Having faced retirement and the rigors of the transition out of the game himself, Collins has plenty of personal experience dealing with the major issues a player can face when his NFL career is over.

"You go from having this rich lifestyle to being completely cut off and having to make some tough decisions for you and your family to try to downsize," Collins said. "It was very difficult and I thought I was more prepared than most guys but I was still physiologically and personally affected by a lot of things that happened to me and my family during this time."

Although Collins can relate to many of the issue facing players who retire from the NFL now, the game and the demands on a player have changed a lot since he broke into the league 14 years ago.

"Halfway through the 1990s, you had an offseason and there were three months where you didn't have any contact with your team," he explained. "Now these guys go year-round and it's hard for them to develop their off-the-field skills. And that's a big challenge.

"Younger guys also are coming into the league and guys aren't playing as long so you're dealing with guys that played two years and retired at the age of 26. That's like fresh-out-of college with no job experience so you're coming out there cold.

"You sometimes have to convince them to start at the bottom and rebuild themselves into their new career. For a lot of players, because they are celebrated, it's a difficult thing."

After his playing days were through, Collins tried a slew of things before eventually taking a job in the field he studied in college.

"I did so many things when I retired," he recalled. "I tried to start a couple of business, but as far as businesses go, that was very difficult. We had some businesses that did okay but in the end, were unsuccessful. Then I had the opportunity to be the assistant supervisor of the emergency room at the Virginia Hospital Center and in a short time, I became the manager.

"Those skills that I developed as a manger in the emergency room, in that fast-paced environment where so much can go wrong every day, really set my jaw as far as what the real world is all about.

"The nature of the ER is that your patients, who are your customers, are there because they have a problem," Collins continued. "They don't want to be there and they aren't happy. They are there because something is wrong with them. And dealing with that on a customer-service basis, and all the policy and procedure and paper work at a hospital, there was never an easy day.

"There are always 130 patients in the emergency room every day and you never have a chance to catch up. It's open 24-7 so it's a constant grind and trying to turn that paperwork over every day. I loved it.

"Hospital Administration was my major at Penn State, so I had a real passion for it. But I don't think I will ever have a more difficult job than that one."

Collins played 10 NFL seasons with the Redskins (1990-94), Bengals (1995-97), Bears (1998) and the Lions (1999). He was part of Washington's Super Bowl XXVI championship team, starting all 16 games at linebacker that season.

"While he never made the Pro Bowl and isn't the first name out of anyone's mouth when mentioning the great linebackers of the game, Collins wouldn't trade his 10 NFL years for anything.

"I thought I had a wonderful career because I was able to play a lot and contribute to the teams I was on," he said. "I certainly would not consider myself a 'star.' But as a role player, the roles I was allowed to play certainly impacted our teams' success.

"Having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl early on in my career was special. And trying desperately to get back to that point but never making it was still great. I wouldn't trade my career for anything. It was perfect."

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