Playing in the National Football League has a staggering effect on a man’s mind, body, and soul. After playing five seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman, I know that as well as anyone. I’m deeply grateful for the God-given abilities I was blessed with, which gave me the opportunity to accomplish a childhood dream of mine and play professional football in the NFL. I experienced a lot of priceless moments during my career, most of which I would never have had if I didn’t make it as a player. But there’s a darker side to living out my NFL dream; one that manifested itself after my career was over. The effects of playing football over the course of a lifetime were only amplified when I left the game. What I experienced upon retirement left me broken and in search of filling a massive void in my life that was previously filled with football.
It all started in 1995 when I was drafted as an offensive lineman in the 4th round by the Denver Broncos. As an offensive lineman, it was my job to open holes on running plays and to protect the quarterback when the football was being passed. I played three seasons with the Denver Broncos. In my second season, I became a husband and a father for the first time. We won Super Bowl XXXII during my third and final year with the Broncos. Life was good. The feeling of winning the biggest game in football is a close second to the birth of my sons, but it was not enough to keep me from agreeing to a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
I played one season with the 49ers. It was there I sustained an injury during the off-season while doing an extra workout to polish my technique. I tore my calf and part of my Achilles a month before training camp and I was never the same. In lieu of surgery, I was told to rest my leg and handed a steady supply of opioids to help with the pain. I practiced and endured pain to no avail during training camp that following August. I set big goals for myself and I was ready to fight for my starting job. Then it happened again. I suffered a serious injury during practice one day, which was a result of me returning to the field prior to my body properly healing itself. The nature of my injury made my body more susceptible to other injuries; it seemed like I would pull a different muscle almost every other day! I’d pull my quadricep during one practice; take whatever pills were given to me; fight through a couple more practices, then pull a hamstring muscle. It was a vicious cycle that ultimately led me to lose my starting position. I was in a tough place during that summer, but it all changed the day I came to know the Lord Jesus and accepted Him as my savior. I felt hope again. The fire inside me was reignited, I knew I still had some fight left in me. I regained my starting job midway through the season, but I continued to struggle with my injuries. Another season of grinding it out on the field certainly didn’t help my body heal and I was subsequently cut by the 49ers at the end of that season.
After working out with a few teams, I chose to sign with the Washington Redskins. I made the team as a backup offensive lineman for the 1999 season; unbeknownst to me at the time, that would be my last season in the NFL. I fought through the nagging injuries for another year, but at the end of the season the Redskins opted not to renew my contract. It was over. My body couldn’t keep up with the physical demands of playing football anymore. Little did I know my troubles were only beginning.
Divorce proceedings with my wife were filed shortly after I left my career in football. My world felt like it was crashing down. Not only was I still dealing with the physical pain from my playing days, but now I was spiraling into a deep depression. During this time, I made several good decisions, but also several bad ones, to try and supplement that feeling of hearing the fans buzzing in the crowd on game day. It was a difficult time, I missed all the emotions the game of football provided me. Three years after retiring, I was living at home with my father and working odd jobs while continuing to attend college in my spare time. This pattern of hardship, dealing with pain and coping with depression, continued to plague me in the years that followed. I couldn’t find anything to fill the void football left inside me; I’ve had 12 different jobs since my last season with the Redskins, but I was never able to find another passion to replace football.
That all changed over the past couple years after I took an interest in learning more about the medicinal properties of cannabis. Like many others, I first discovered cannabis socially while in college. As a kid growing up in Miami I was aware of what cannabis was, but it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I decided to try it for myself. Dr. Dre and Snoop’s newly released album The Chronic was at the top of the charts, the Hip Hop community had been rapping about it for years, so I thought I’d finally give it a try to find out what the fuss was about. I immediately understood why so many people enjoyed the effects of using cannabis. I was taken by the way it made my mind and body feel. The experience seemed to reveal feelings and emotions in a way I had never experienced before. It gave me a heightened sense of awareness; my vision, my hearing, my sense of smell and touch – everything just became clearer for me. However, the fear of losing my scholarship kept this new-found enjoyment of cannabis at bay.
It was after I retired from football when I started to learn that using cannabis may have actually helped my body while I was playing football. The number of former professional athletes, many from the NFL, who found relief using cannabis was an eye-opener for me. To learn that many of my peers were publicly talking about how cannabis helped manage their pain and alleviate the anxiety and depression they were feeling was truly inspiring! For the first time in many years, I felt like I wasn’t alone. As it turns out, a lot of those former professional athletes were having the same feelings and decided to come together and make a difference.
Today, I can proudly say that I have a new team to play for: Athletes for Care (A4C). My A4C team includes several of my peers from the NFL, but it also has former athletes from the NHL, UFC, NBA, X-Games, Volleyball; the list goes on. While our mission is to provide support, opportunity, and purpose to one another in life after a career in sports, we were united by the shared belief that cannabis plays a key role in our journey to a better quality of life.
I have come to accept that I no longer wear the uniform of an NFL player. My old jerseys are simply reminders of the previous life I once lived. Instead, the helmet I wear now is represented by the knowledge I have acquired since I left the game. My new shoulder pads are made from the heart and courage of those that came before me, and those who will come after me, in all arenas of athletic competition. My cleats come from the wisdom of knowing that my steps are secure and on solid ground as I continue on my spiritual journey through life. The uniform I wear now is that of a Resurrected Warrior. Ready, Set HIKE!!