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Leonard Wheeler A CONVERSATION WITH THE TRUST

Leonard Wheeler currently serves the NFL Legends Community as Co-Executive Director. He played 8 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers.

As you contemplated your decision to retire, what were some of the thoughts that went through your head?

“Oh no,” was one thought that went through my head. Another one was, “Am I prepared?”

Before retirement, I often asked myself, “Am I prepared for that big change? Do I have enough resources for my family to transition effectively?”

I also had to figure out what transition even resembled. I didn’t know what retirement looked like for me. I owned my first company as a rookie in the NFL, so I was always trying to prepare mentally for life after the game. The problem is, you don’t know when life after the game is going to come. It’s almost like having insurance. You don’t know when you’re going to need insurance, but you know you have to keep it. That's how transition is sometimes.

You know transition is inevitable, so you try two things: either prepare as much as possible to take away the blow of the emotional transition or run in the area of denial and act as if it will never happen.

"I also had to figure out what transition even resembled. I didn’t know what retirement looked like for me."

What was your support network like and who did you turn to for answers?

I had some amazing mentors who spoke life into me. Reggie Rice, a pastor in Texas who had a brother who played in the NFL for several years. Pastor Keith Johnson, who was my pastor in Minnesota when I played for the Vikings. Mike Bunkley, who was the chaplain when I played for the Panthers. Jeff Patton, who was the chaplain for the Bengals while I was there.

Those men had seen a lot of guys transition. Having them in my corner during my transition really allowed me to keep a lot of balance. Without having a solid relationship in the Word or God and in my belief system, my transition would have been a lot harder.

"Having them in my corner during my transition really allowed me to keep a lot of balance."

Looking back on your transition from the NFL, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

I would make sure I reached out and created a solid network of people for my transition. I don't think we as players do a good enough job since we don't know when the transition is going to happen. Most often we take it for granted, so I would have maximized my platform better. I would empower people in my circle better. I would have made sure my circle was more strengthened than it was.

Something I feel like I did do right during my transition was create SMART goals. I would encourage guys to create Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time Bound goals.

"I would make sure I reached out and created a solid network of people for my transition."

How does the NFL Legends Community provide a support network for all Legends?

When I think about The NFL Legends Community, I think about it as a covering. It is a community that celebrates a Legend’s contribution to the game while creating engagement and providing information that will assist them in their post-playing career.

The Legends Community focus is to maximize the message The Trust, the NFLPA, the Gridiron Greats and other partners give. We want to take all of those messages, put it together and give it to all the Legends and their families in one package. We want to help amplify all partner messages, so all Legends are thoroughly informed about every resource and benefit available to them.

Players can sign up by going to The NFL Legends’ website. Over 20,000 players have played in the NFL over 98 years. When you think about 98 years, there are Legends everywhere. If you don't feel like you're a legend in the NFL, you are a Legend in your hometown. You’re a Legend in your college town. Your nephews and nieces believe you're a Legend. It's really about walking in that and knowing they did something most people in the world couldn't do: played in the NFL.

"If you don't feel like you're a legend in the NFL, you are a Legend in your hometown. You’re a Legend in your college town."

Check Out the NFL Legends Community.

What made you want to get involved with The Legends?

Troy Vincent and Tracy Perlman called and asked if I would accept the Co-Executive Director position. Troy and I were drafted together in 1992, so we've been friends for a long time. They both explained to me that The Legends is about celebrating, embracing and connecting. When I heard that, it was a no-brainer for me to accept. Peer-to-peer communication is something I love to do, so it took me every bit of five seconds to say yes.

My role entails service. At the end of the day, it is about serving the men and their families. Me being a Co-Executive Director just continues to propel the leadership portion of it, but bottom line is I'm in the business of serving. It’s making sure, along with Chad Pennington, we're serving our Directors, our Coordinators and our Legends and their families.

What programs and services of The Trust’s have you used?

I’m trying to think of what I haven’t utilized! I was one of the first people who completed the Brain and Body Assessment at the University of North Carolina. I went back to school and got another degree with help from The Trust. I have the YMCA membership and actually teach a boot camp every Thursday morning there. I have seen first-hand how effective The Trust is.

Why would you encourage Legends to utilize The Trust’s Brain and Body Assessment?

Because they shouldn't take life for granted. They need to make sure when they leave the game, they understand their bodies just as much as they understand their finances. Their finances are one part of their transition, but their body and their brain are vital parts of their transition. They need to understand the priority of taking care of their one temple. You will not receive another brain or body, but you can always earn more money. When your body starts to age, you have to make sure you understand what's going on with it.

"You will not receive another brain or body, but you can always earn more money."

What's one thing Legends should know about The Trust?

I always try to convey The Trust has partners we can all trust, who will help you in your transition. That's what it's all about – trust. It's about, “who do I trust to help me and my family transition into this real world?” A lot of times, players don't know who to turn to. What The Trust does is make sure they understand there are people who really want them to transition correctly. I believe the Legends Community, along with The Trust and other partners, are doing it the right way in assisting our guys.

"A lot of times, players don't know who to turn to. What The Trust does is make sure they understand there are people who really want them to transition correctly."

What I always tell the guys is, “Stop being bitter.” A lot of times they don't reach out because they're bitter, so they need to stop and understand living your best life now is more important. Allow yourself to have an open mind in your transition, because you never know the doors God is going to open for you.

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More About Leonard

LeonardWheeler.com | Get His Book | TriLucentGlobal.com

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