Former Seattle Seahawks’ linebacker Shaquem Griffin announced his retirement from football last week in a letter published by The Players’ Tribune – becoming one of the latest athletes that retired before turning 30. The 27-year-old was drafted by the team in the fifth round in 2018.
That moment in 2018 was special, with Griffin becoming the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL – he had his left hand amputated at the age of four due to amniotic band syndrome. It also reunited him with his twin brother, who was a CB for Seattle at the time.
He described his decision in detail, noting that football was always Plan B – “”Plan A was to go to college, get an education and do something that would make a positive impact in the world.” Griffin will now continue to make a difference as a member of the NFL Legends Community.
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Other Athletes That Retired Before Turning 30
Shaquem Griffin isn’t the only athlete that retired before turning 30 – which is when a lot of athletes are either just starting their prime or in the midst of their prime. In fact, it’s a decision that many of the greatest athletes of all-time have made, much at the surprise of others.
For example, Rob Gronkowski and Michael Jordan are athletes that retired before turning 30 – though they both came out of retirement. There are also athletes like Doug Baldwin, Patrick Willis, Yao Ming, Calvin Johnson, and Sandy Koufax – all of whom retired at the age of 30.
We can’t forget about Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Barry Sanders, and Earl Campbell, who each retired at the age of 31. Of course, none of those people truly retired before the age of 30 – so let’s take a look at some of the most surprising athletes that retired before turning 30.
20. Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona is a former French footballer (soccer) who enjoyed a legendary career with Manchester United between 1992 and 1997. He also played on the French national team, as well as Leeds United, Nimes, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Marseille, Martigues, and Auxerre.
Cantona retired from football in 1997, with his final competitive game coming on May 11, 1997 – just 13 days before his 30th birthday. In five years with Manchester United, he scored an impressive 82 goals and added another 20 goals in 45 matches with the French national team.
19. Casey Stoner
Casey Stoner is a former Australian pro motorcycle racer who competed in the MotoGP World Championship between 2006 and 2012. During that time, he won two titles – one with Honda and one with Ducatti. Stoner also raced in both the 250cc and 125cc World Championships.
On May 17, 2012, Stoner announced his intent to retire at the end of the 2012 season – which he did, at the age of 27. In 115 starts in the MotoGP, Stoner finished his short career with an impressive 38 wins, 69 podiums, and 39 poles. He had seven wins in the 250cc and 125cc.
18. Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg is a former Finnish-German racing driver who competed in Formula 1 between 2006 and 2016. He began his career with Williams, but made the move to Mercedes in 2010. Between 2013 and 2016, Rosberg was a teammate of Lewis Hamilton, one of the best ever.
Rosberg retired from racing less than a week after winning his first championship in 2016 – he was at the pinnacle of his career. In 206 starts, he earned 23 wins, 57 podiums, 1,594.5 career points, 30 pole positions, and 20 fastest laps. He has since taken on several other hobbies.
17. Norman Whiteside
Norman Whiteside is a former Northern Irish footballer (soccer) who excelled at the striker and midfielder positions. A majority of his success occurred between 1982 and 1989, which is when he played for both Manchester United in the Premier League and Northern Irish national team.
Throughout his career, Whiteside played in 274 games across all competitions for Man U – scoring 67 goals before turning 25. He spent the last few years of his career with Everton, but injuries to his knee forced the 26-year-old to announce his retirement in June of 1991.
16. Yana Kudryavtseva
Yana Kudryavtseva is a retired individual rhythmic gymnast who competed on Russia’s national team between 2007 and 2017. During that time, she won 36 gold, nine silver, and one bronze medal – including 13 golds and three silvers at the World Championships in 2013-2015.
One of the highlights of her career occurred in 2016, when she represented Russia at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She earned a silver medal in the all-around event. Unfortunately, a leg injury caused her to retire in January of 2017 – she was just 19 years old.
15. Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe is a former Australian professional swimmer who became the country’s youngest male to ever compete on the national team. He largely specialized in the freestyle event, but also found success in the backstroke and individual medley disciplines. He was dominant.
Between 1997 and 2004, Thorpe won 37 gold medals, nine silver medals, and two bronze medals – including five golds and three silvers at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. He was an 11-time World Champion, but decided to retire in November of 2006 – he was 24 years old.
14. Gabriela Sabatini
Gabriela Sabatini is a former Argentine-Italian tennis player who ranked as high as No. 3 in singles (February 1989) and doubles (November 1988). Between 1985 and 1996, she had a 632-189 singles record (27 titles) and 252-96 doubles record (14 titles). She was tough to beat.
Sabatini won two Grand Slams in her career – she won the US Open in 1990 (singles) and Wimbledon in 1988 (doubles). She even won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Unfortunately, an injury forced her to retire in 1996 – she was just 26 years old.
13. Chris Borland
Chris Borland played five years of college football at the University of Wisconsin between 2009 and 2013. During that time, he recorded 420 tackles, 50.0 tackles for a loss, 17.0 sacks, and three interceptions. He was a third-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2014.
He started 14 games for the 49ers his rookie season, finishing the year with 108 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 1.0 sack, one fumble recovery, and two interceptions. He decided to retire after his rookie season, citing it wasn’t worth the injury risk. Borland was just 24 years old.
12. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson is one of the most recognizable names in sports. He was a three-sport athlete at Auburn University, playing baseball, track and field, and football – where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1985. Despite being drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, he chose to play baseball.
Between 1986 and 1994, Jackson recorded 598 hits, 141 home runs, 415 RBIs, and 341 runs as a member of the Royals, White Sox, and Angels. He also scored 18 touchdowns in the NFL between 1987 and 1990. Injuries forced him to retire from football at 29 and baseball at 31.
11. Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck played three years of college football at Stanford University between 2009 and 2011, throwing for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns for the school. He was later drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 – replacing the legend, Peyton Manning.
Between 2012 and 2018, Luck led the Colts to a 53-33 record and threw for 23,671 yards, 171 touchdowns, and 83 interceptions. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and even won Comeback Player of the Year in 2018. Unfortunately, injuries forced him to retire in 2019 at the age of 29.
10. Luke Kuechly
Luke Kuechly played three years of college football at Boston College, where he recorded 532 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, seven interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. That led to him being drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 9 overall pick in 2012.
Not only did Kuechly win Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, but he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and was named to seven-straight Pro Bowls. Despite being at the top of his game, Kuechly announced his retirement after the 2019 season – he was just 28 years old.
9. Shannon Miller
Shannon Miller is a former American artistic gymnast who represented the United States at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics – where she won two gold, two silver, and three bronze medals. Her and Simone Biles are the most decorated American female gymnasts in Olympics history.
In addition to her Olympic success, Miller won five gold, three silver, and one bronze medal at the World Championships between 1991 and 1995. She decided to retire on August 20, 2000 at the age of 23 years old. She has since received her B.B.A. in marketing and entrepreneurship.
8. Justine Henin
Justine Henin is a former Belgian tennis player who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016. She turned professional back in 1999 and had an impressive 525-115 singles record over the next 12 years – winning seven Grand Slam tournaments in the process.
Henin finished as the year-end No. 1 overall player three times in her career – 2003, 2006, and 2007 – and won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. She originally announced her retirement on May 14, 2008 at the age of 25. She made a comeback in 2010, but quickly retired again in 2011.
7. Brandon Roy
Brandon Roy played four years of college basketball at the University of Washington, where he averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game (103 games). In the 2006 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Roy with the sixth overall pick.
Roy made an immediate impact in the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year in 2006-07. He was on a tear through the first four years of his career, but injuries haunted him in the 2010-11 season. He retired before the 2011 season at the age of 27. He returned in 2012, but it didn’t last long.
6. Jim Brown
Jim Brown played three years of college football at Syracuse University between 1954 and 1956, where he had 2,091 rushing yards, 120 receiving yards, and 21 total touchdowns. He was later drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the sixth overall pick of the 1957 NFL Draft.
Over the next nine seasons, Brown accumulated 14,811 yards from scrimmage and 126 total touchdowns. He was a three-time MVP, nine-time Pro Bowler, Rookie of the Year, and one-time champion. Still in his prime, Brown retired in July 1966 to further pursue his career in acting.
5. Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones is a former American amateur golfer who attended Georgia Tech, Harvard University, and Emory University. Despite never turning pro, he was dominant in the PGA Tour, compiling nine wins and seven majors (the U.S. Open four times and The Open three times).
Not only that, but Jones won the U.S. Amateur Open five times and the British Amateur once between 1924 and 1930. He decided to retire from golf in 1930 – he was just 28 years old. He later founded the Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the Masters Tournament.
4. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers played three years of college football at the University of Kansas between 1962 and 1964, where he recorded 2,675 rushing yards, 398 receiving yards, and 19 touchdowns. He was later drafted by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick of the 1965 NFL Draft.
Sayers spent just seven seasons in the NFL, accumulating 4,956 rushing yards, 1,307 receiving yards, and 48 total touchdowns – 20 of which came as a rookie in 1965. Unfortunately, an injury forced him to retire ahead of the 1972 season at just 29 years old. He’s now in the Hall of Fame.
3. Lorena Ochoa
Lorena Ochoa is a former Mexican golfer who played two years of college golf at the University of Arizona. She turned professional in 2002 and joined the LPGA Tour in 2003 – where she remained until 2010. During that time, she had 27 LPGA wins and two major championships.
After winning the Women’s British Open in 2007, she won the Chevron Championship in 2008. With 30 professional wins to her name, she shockingly decided to retire after the 2010 Tres Marias Championship – she was just 29 years old. She made a brief comeback in 2012.
2. Ashleigh Barty
Ashleigh Barty is a retired Australian tennis player who turned professional in April 2010 at just 14 years old. Over the next 12 years, she compiled a 305-102 singles record and 15 career titles – including wins at the 2022 Australian Open, 2019 French Open, and 2021 Wimbledon.
Barty also had a 200-64 record in doubles and won the US Open doubles title in 2018. At the top of her game and on an impressive run over the previous three years, Barty shocked the world when she announced her retirement on march 23, 2022 – she was just 26 years old.
1. Björn Borg
Björn Borg is a former Swedish tennis player who turned professional in 1973 at the age of 17. Over the next decade, he dominated with a 654-140 singles record and 66 titles – including six French Open wins and five wins at Wimbledon. He was also a four-time US Open finalist.
In January 1983, Borg shocked the world when he announced his retirement from tennis – he was just 26 years old. He would attempt a comeback in 1991, but it wouldn’t last long and he clearly wasn’t the same. Who knows what his career could’ve been if he stayed dedicated.
What’s Next for Athletes That Retired Before Turning 30?
Deciding to retire before you turn 30 isn’t an easy decision for any athlete – whether they’re at the top of their game like Bjorn Borg or struggling to land on a team like Shaquem Griffin. These players were born to compete and have dedicated their entire life to the sport they’ve perfected.
And while everyone must retire at some point in their lifetime, that doesn’t mean it’s the end for them – in fact, it’s often just the beginning. They still have the ability to make a difference in other ways, whether they start a new career, invest their money, or give back to the community.
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You also can’t forget that a lot of these athletes have families that they’d love to spend more time with – it’s something that almost sent Tom Brady into retirement this past offseason. No matter what they do with their time, the only thing we can hope for is that they’re happy!
20 of the Most Popular Jobs for Retired Athletes
Life after sports can be hard for some retired athletes – especially those that weren’t making millions every year. Superstars are usually set for life, so long as they don’t blow their money on useless things, but a strong majority of retired athletes have to consider other career options.
For example, more than 60% of former NBA players end up spending their career earnings within five years of retiring – and the numbers aren’t that different in other sports. Considering most athletes retire before the age of 30, it makes sense why so many must return to work.
The main problem is most retired athletes gave up their entire life to perfect their sport – whether it be soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, football, or any other sport. Although they can do whatever they put their mind to, most of these retired athletes are starting from scratch.
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Most Popular Jobs for Retired Athletes
While some retired athletes might struggle in their post-playing days, others will figure it out and even thrive in their new career. Just look at Randy Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher who spent 22 years in the MLB. He retired after the 2009 season and is now a professional photographer.
Shandon Anderson spent 10 seasons in the NBA, but retired in 2006 and became a chef for a vegetarian restaurant. Bryant Reeves spent six years in the NBA, but retired in 2001 to become a cattle rancher. Myron Rolle left the NFL after just two seasons to become a neurosurgeon.
Of course, athletes are always going to have a unique path once they retire – Vin Baker worked at Starbucks after blowing $100 million throughout his 13-year career in the NBA. For all the retired athletes out there looking for a job, let’s take a look at some of the most popular!
20. Sports Marketing Manager
In order to be successful, athletes must know how to market themselves – it helps during the draft process, free agency, and in the endorsement game. It’s this type of experience that makes athletes the perfect fit as a sports marketing manager – they’re essentially built for it.
Social media managers utilize a number of avenues – including television, radio, magazines, and social media – to bring more attention and traffic to a sports franchise. Many athletes like this because it keeps them close to the game, but in a much more behind-the-scenes fashion.
19. Financial Advisor
With big contracts and millions of dollars comes great responsibility. Some athletes take that responsibility seriously, while others don’t. For those that are careful and smart with their money, it wouldn’t be crazy to see them pursue a career as a financial advisor in their post-playing days.
Some retired athletes who found a second calling as a financial advisor include former NFL players Wayne Chrebet, Brad Daluiso, Jim Everett, Cade McNown, and Patrick Kerney, former NHL players Clark Gillies and Brian Bellows, and former NBA player Chris Dudley.
18. Athletic Director
For retired athletes that want to remain close to the game and perhaps have an impact on younger athletes, becoming an athletic director can be a rewarding experience. Whether it’s at a high school or university, they’re responsible for overseeing the entire school’s athletic program.
One great example of a retired athlete becoming an athletic director is Tom Holmoe. He spent seven seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, catching seven interceptions and returning two of them for touchdowns. He has been the athletic director at BYU since 2005.
17. Sales Executive
For athletes that love the thrill and adrenaline rush that sports provide, it wouldn’t be out of pocket to pursue a career in sales. In fact, it’s a reality that many athletes face after retirement. Athletes already hold all the traits needed to succeed in sales, they just need to stay dedicated.
Some of the reasons why retired athletes make such great sales representatives and sales executives is because they’re competitive, team-focused, driven, motivated, mentally-tough, coachable, passionate, adaptable, outgoing, and understand the value behind commitment.
16. Public Speaker
Another great career path that many retired athletes follow is public speaking. This is true for many celebrities, but athletes are known for coming from a variety of backgrounds and each have a unique set of life experiences that they can use to inspire and teach others about life.
Some of the most popular retired athletes who are frequent public speakers include Tim Tebow, Magic Johnson, Drew Brees, Emmitt Smith, Laila Ali, Michael Strahan, Shannon Miller, Gabby Douglas, Jim Morris, Nancy Kerrigan, Scott Hamilton, Hines Ward, and much more.
Before most retired athletes followed a path into sports, they had dreams or hobbies in other areas. Unfortunately, making it to the professional level takes an extreme amount of dedication, meaning a lot of those retired athletes had to put all those other hobbies and dreams on hold.
Once they retire and have a good amount of money saved up, they can start to follow through with all those dreams and hobbies. For some retired athletes, this opens the door to a world of opportunities as an entrepreneur. In fact, retired athletes are starting new businesses every day.
14. Venture Capitalist
Although not all retired athletes are interested in starting a business from scratch, many have the funds to invest in other businesses as a venture capitalist. It’s a great way to stay close to some of the businesses you believe in, while also earning some good income in the process.
We saw this with Serena Williams, who recently announced her retirement from the game of tennis. Although she’s retiring, she has vowed to stay heavily involved in her venture capitalist firm, Serena Ventures. Kevin Durant also has a venture capitalist firm, Thirty Five Ventures.
13. Real Estate Agent or Investor
For retired athletes that want to continue earning a good income while doing minimal work, real estate is always a quality option. You can become a real estate agent and sell homes, you can purchase homes and rent them, or you can flip homes for a profit – opportunities are endless!
Many retired athletes have made the jump into real estate after their playing days. For example, Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Hakeem Olajuwon have all built successful real estate empires in retirement.
Can you imagine walking into your first day of school, entering your homeroom or first period class, and realizing that your teacher is a retired professional athlete? That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? Well, that’s the case for many students in schools and colleges across the country.
A good example of this is former WWE superstar Tito Santana. After retiring, he embarked on a career as a physical education teacher and most recently as a Spanish teacher. We should also note that Shaquille O’Neal has a doctorate in education, though he’s technically not a teacher.
11. Sports Psychologist
Athletes that are mentally tough gain an edge over their competitors. They’re not only more prepared when it matters most, but they’re able to live in the moment and not get too ahead of themselves – which bodes well for them during a game. Unfortunately, mental toughness is rare.
For retired athletes that made a living with their mental toughness, they could apply what they’ve learned in a career as a sports psychologist. It would require going back to school for most athletes, but it can be a rewarding experience and they’ll get to work directly with athletes.
10. Social Media Influencer
Two decades ago, this wouldn’t even be a thing, but we live in 2022 now and social media has become an enormous part of everyone’s life – so much that millions of people around the world are making a career out of it as an influencer. If you have the following, you can make money.
Since retired athletes already have a following, all they need is a way to make money off of it. This usually involves partnerships, sponsorships, and endorsements with other companies, which many athletes already have. This is an easy way to earn an income for retired athletes.
9. Dietician or Nutritionist
In order to be a successful athlete at the professional level, you have to learn how to take care of your body. While that means spending a good amount of time in the gym – perfecting your craft – it also means supplying your body with the right diet and nutrients on a daily basis.
Many retired athletes already have the mindset when it comes to dieting, they just need to learn how to help others achieve that same mindset. Luckily, they can get certified and trained as a dietician or nutritionist in months and be well on their way to making a career out of it in no time.
8. Personal Trainer
Maybe you’re not interested in helping athletes improve their mental toughness or diet, but retired athletes can still pursue a career as a personal trainer. This means they’ll be in the gym often, helping other athletes improve their physical appearance, as well as their performance.
Much like a nutritionist or dietician, personal trainers can become certified within months and it usually costs less than $1,000 to take the course. Once you’re certified, you can start taking on clients and setting your own prices. It’s the easiest way to start a personal training business.
7. Physical Therapist
Alright, so you weren’t quite interested in becoming a psychologist, nutritionist, or personal trainer – yet you still want to work closely with athletes. Maybe you should consider becoming a physical therapist – it’ll take a little more training and education, but it’s extremely rewarding.
As a physical therapist, you’ll be working with a lot of injured athletes – both active and retired. You’ll not only help them heal their injury and return to competition as soon as possible, but you’ll be responsible for helping them prevent future injuries so they can remain in competition.
This is a career path that many athletes start during their playing career, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be pursued once an athlete retires. In fact, many athletes – think back to Jim Brown – retire while in their prime, just to give them more time to commit to their role as an actor.
Some of the most famous retired athletes to have success as an actor or actress include Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, John Cena, Terry Crews, Kevin Garnett, Dave Bautista, Shaquille O’Neal, Carl Weathers, Ronda Rousey, Esther Williams, and Michael Jordan.
5. Sports Referee
While some retired athletes can’t wait to hang their cleats up and pursue a life away from the court (or field, rink, track, etc.), others find it difficult to leave. If you’re one of those retired athletes that can’t leave, you can have the best of both worlds by becoming a sports referee.
You’ll have to start at the bottom ranks and work your way up, especially if you want to be a referee at the professional level, but it’s a career that’ll keep you close to the game and it’s a career you can continue for a long time – as long as you can run up and down the court or field.
4. Sports Analyst
One of the most popular jobs for retired athletes, especially in the world we live in today, is sports analyst. Whether you sign with ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, TNT, Sky Sports, or any other network, retired athletes can spread their knowledge of the game and their experience.
Some of the most popular retired athletes to become a sports analyst are Richard Jefferson, JJ Reddick, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Michael Strahan, Jay Bilas, Terry Bradshaw, Doris Burke, Mary Carillo, Chris Evert, John McEnroe, and David Ortiz.
3. Sports Broadcaster
For retired athletes that want to be in front of the camera, but closer to the action, becoming a sports broadcaster could be the perfect retirement plan. Play-by-play announcers are essential to the viewing experience at home and former athletes are usually the best candidates for it.
Just look at Tony Romo and how he’s able to take his knowledge of the game and predict how a game is going to play out. It’s something we’re sure to see out of Tom Brady once he retires – don’t forget, he signed a 10-year, $375 million deal to become a broadcaster for FOX Sports.
2. Front Office Executive
Some retired athletes know the game better than anyone. If they have the skills to build a team or simply oversee certain areas of the team, then they should consider working towards a front office position. They might not get a job with a pro team right away, but it can happen eventually.
For example, some of the most popular retired athletes to become front office executives – owner, GM, etc. – include John Lynch, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Danny Ainge, Nolan Ryan, Larry Bird, Steve Yzerman, Ozzie Newsome, and Joe Dumars.
1. Head Coach
If the front office isn’t your thing, then you can always consider becoming a coach – especially if you’re more of a hands-on type of person. This allows you to get on the field and up close with the players, helping them become the best athlete possible – there’s nothing more rewarding.
Some of the best players-turned-coaches in sports history include Bill Russell, Pat Riley, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Torre, Mike Ditka, Lenny Wilkens, Phil Jackson, Joe Girardi, Steve Kerr, Jimmy Connors, Dick LeBeau, Forrest Gregg, Sammy Baugh, Tom Flores, and more.
Retired Athletes Have So Much Left to Give
Leaving a sport is difficult for retired athletes who have dedicated their entire life to perfecting their craft. Whether you’ve been a professional athlete for one year, five years, a decade, or several decades, know that there’s so much more to life – you just have to make the most of it.
As you can see above, there are so many unique career paths you can choose, but those are just 20 of the thousands of options available today. They often say you can make money doing anything, the real question is what do YOU want to do and how can you get started right away?
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Of course, retired athletes are some of the most experienced and resilient people out there. They’ve endured a lot through their career and if there’s anyone who can figure it out – it’s them. For all the retired athletes out there working hard, we appreciate you and wish you the best.
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