Former Major League Baseball (MLB) players and athletic identity
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At the height of their professional careers, Major League Baseball (MLB) players are considered the best in the world at their sport. For these men, athletic identity is the dominating force in their lives, yet all MLB players must eventually retire from the sport that has defined their lives for so long. Transition into retirement is difficult for players who have never considered a life without playing baseball. The purpose of this research was to examine perceptions of athletic identity among former MLB players and to gain insight into both the positive and negative aspects of their transition into retirement. The literature review examined theories in identity studies and a concurrent mixed-methods approach was used to collect and analyze data from members of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA). A sample of 194 participants completed an online survey based on the Third Version of the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale Plus (AIMS-Plus), which also included additional demographic and open-ended questions to determine the participant’s age, the number of years of service in the MLB, level of education, income, marriage status, if they still have injuries related to their MLB career, if they still consider themselves baseball players, and if they secured employment after their retirement. Ten “high identity loss” participants, and ten chosen “low identity loss” participants were selected for in-depth interviews. Analysis of the survey and coded interviews revealed that MLB players experience sudden identity foreclosure and identity loss upon retirement; former players have strong crossover qualities that carry over into their careers after retirement; the timing of and years in retirement has an effect on perception of identity; and former players can adapt to reconstruct their identities around other important aspects of their lives such as family and new career opportunities. The implications of the study suggest that maintaining a connection to baseball and acknowledging crossover qualities early in their career can help athletes transition more smoothly into retirement. Further, maintaining strong relationships with family and considering career planning early in their MLB careers could help players cope with identity loss during retirement.
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