Nate Jackson - Athletes For Care: My New Team

Life in sports was never lonely. At the beginning of every season, everyone came together and went through an identical experience. When the season was over, we all walked out the same way we came in—together. As a child, I was a swimmer and a soccer player. My best friends were my teammates. Season after season, we grew up together.

When I started playing football in high school, I got a whole new batch of friends and was finally playing the sport I had always loved from afar. Through high school, college and six years in the NFL, my football teammates and coaches were my support system. We laughed a lot. Beat each other up. Got pissed off. Vented about the coaches. Cried tears of joy and leaned on each other when we were hurting. In the NFL, this was all magnified, as the NFL is a bubble in which the only ones who really understand you are your teammates. Dog eat dog—every day. We were there for each other despite the vicious competition, the violent expectations, and the different backgrounds. We shelved everything in our lives to succeed in this world. Every life question that was posed to me had one simple answer—football. It was all so easy to define.

Then, all at once, like a gunshot, it was taken away. I got a tap on the shoulder when no one was looking and I was gone from the facility before anyone noticed I was missing. No goodbyes. No press conferences. No closure. Just a garbage bag full of all my gear. They say that football players are lucky because they get to “retire” early. But football players don’t retire—that’s a lie. It is always a forced exit. And with that exit comes an identity crisis. There is no more football. There is no more locker room. No more uniform. No more paycheck. No more teammates. No more screaming fans. No more jersey with my name on the back and no more locker with my stuff in it. It all just ends—like a roller coaster ride. Time to get off! “But where do I go?” There was no one there to answer.

In the years that followed, I went through what I know now was a depression. I still feel it sometimes. I get anxious. Agitated. Unsure of myself in the real world. No one told me that the football bubble that I had become my home was actually a fantasy land. It wasn’t real life. But there was no way for me to know that from the inside. And when I got outside of it, I saw that none of my skills could be used out here. I had to start over. I had to use my words. I had to come up with my own plan, to be creative, to speak up for myself. I am a writer now, and so the process of finding the words has come easier for me than for some of my friends. I kept a journal while I played. I took guitar lessons. I thought about what I would do when it ended. I tried to be ready. But even still, finding my voice outside the lines has been a struggle. One thing that has helped me is cannabis.

I have always found comfort in the plant. It has been a friend of mine since my teenage years, but it was a secret friend—secret to the authorities, at least. I bonded with many teammates over cannabis and found its healing properties were vital for my career as a football player. Physical fitness and game readiness were my number one priorities. Cannabis allowed me to maintain the highest level of competition and athleticism, and remain calm enough to handle the demands of an NFL life.

But it wasn’t until I started talking about it—about what cannabis did for me—that I saw its true potential in bringing people together. I discovered a community of former athletes going through the same depression that I was and using cannabis to help them find their way out of it. In sports, the team is the most important thing. If you are hurt, you don’t say it. If you have doubts, fears, you keep them to yourself. But here I was, at a cannabis expo, sitting on stage with a bunch of former athlete’s, and we were talking about pain. About fear. About the things we have in common—the things that make us human.

When an athlete’s career ends, he leaves alone. The team moves on without him. It is at this point that help is needed—and it is nowhere to be found. The leagues will tell you that they have transitional programs in place. But in my experience, they are rarely used. Not by guys like me. Guys who think outside of the box. Guys who’ve had enough with the bureaucracy. Who don’t want to protect the shield anymore.

It is through this recognition of the starving self that Athletes for Care was formed. A4C can be whatever we want it to be. It is being created by athletes for athletes. For once, we get to use our minds! The athlete’s mind is an untapped resource, and his heart is an afterthought. No more! We want your mind and your heart! A4C welcomes all free-thinking athletes. Cannabis is one of the many tools in our belt. The work we must do? Life. Whatever that means, I don’t know. But I know I don’t have to do it alone. Not anymore.


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