NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Maisha Scott thought she and her husband, former NFL defensive back Bryan Scott, handled the end of his playing career very well.
They invested in franchises, including a boxing club. Bryan Scott appeared on the TV show "Shark Tank" and got Mark Cuban to invest in a business, and he also took part in a Breakfast Club program that helps former players stay healthy.
Then the Scotts went to an NFL Player Engagement program called Bridge to Success.
"I wish I would've known what we would have gotten out of it when my husband first came out of the league," Maisha Scott said. "And I probably wouldn't drop the ball in some of the areas where I thought, 'Oh you know, he's fine. He's fine because he's busy, and he's active and he's doing something else that he loves, and you know I didn't really realize that he needed that brotherhood of support and other guys needed to hear his story as well."
More than 150 former NFL players and their spouses or partners attended the fourth annual Bridge to Success Oct. from 26-29 in Orlando.
Bridge to Success features panel discussions, breakout sessions, networking and personalized mentorships to help create individual game plans for each couple. Men receive help making the transition from being players to the next career, financial planning, learn about their NFL benefits and other available resources. Seminars even cover building a better LinkedIn profile and interviews with more than 40 Fortune 500 companies on the final day.
Wives and significant others also attend the sessions and receive the support often lost for themselves when a husband or boyfriend's NFL career ends. No more NFL games also means no more Bible studies or charity events with the other wives on a team.
"The transition is a process for significant others as well as for the players," said Rachel Terrill, whose husband Craig played seven seasons with Seattle. "So letting the other significant others know that they were not alone in their transition and that we were there for them as well, and that we, too, experienced that shift of identity in football or that I, too, experienced a shift of identity when football was over, helps them feel more connected."
The Terrills signed up to attend the first Bridge to Success in 2016. Then Terrill was asked to speak as a professor with a Ph.D in communication from South Florida. She now has presented sessions for wives and significant others at the past two Bridge programs, and they have their own Facebook page now to stay in touch.
"Couples who attend together, they get to dream together," Terrill said. "They get to reflect together, they learn about new ideas and new career paths and new options. They get to dream of their future, plan their future. And also we give them the relationship tips that can help keep their marriage strong, so they're leaving closer than ever, turning toward each other and looking forward toward the future."
A second-generation former NFL player, Freddie Scott is among eight transition coaches with the program. Each went through more than a year of training and certification in areas including mental health issues and identifying depression, and they lead breakout sessions working with former players.
Scott said the Bridge program is a lifeline many players didn't know existed after being released. Some attend not knowing what they want to do next, including one man on crutches recovering from knee surgery. Scott helped identify careers that fit the man's personality.
"And just a look on his face of finally finding something that makes sense was just a breath of fresh air for him," Scott said.
Scott knows personally how challenging leaving the NFL can be. He watched his father, Freddie, play 11 seasons with the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions and sign one of the first contracts with Nike. Scott expected a similar career before a torn hamstring ended his after three seasons and two teams.
"I didn't know that that was my last day in the locker room, and that's what makes it so difficult," said Scott, who now lives in Tennessee.
Some men who attended the program hadn't fully accepted that their careers truly were over, so many come back again to catch up.
"That's what unlocks the path to be able to transition," Scott said. "If you don't connect with that you're going to be stuck emotionally in that place, and nothing else is going to make sense because you never really connected with anything. So I think that's the fact, that it is so difficult. But it's difficult for everyone has given us the best practice of how to be able to walk almost anyone through that process of transition."
Maisha Scott is among those helping spread the word about Bridge to Success, and she wants to return for a "tuneup." She says she and her husband might not have made some mistakes in business if the Bridge to Success had been available when they started. They also went home to Georgia with a new plan from re-evaluating their franchises to the time they spend with family and stay healthy.
Aside from the money-saving tips, Bridge to Success' biggest benefit easily is personal.
"I heard so many wives say, 'My husband hasn't opened up this much, I haven't seen my husband this happy, I haven't seen my husband this excited,'" Maisha Scott said. "And I know that that program is saving marriages. I know that it's saving lives. It is that rich and that incredible."