Home Concussions In Sports What is life like after the NFL?

What is life like after the NFL?

What is life like after the NFL?

I recently read one of my fellow Sisters in Sports posts on our Facebook page that made my heart ache. She wrote about the personal struggles she is going through watching and living the after effects of her husband’s football career. Other spouses have already lost their husbands due to CTE.

The struggle is real! I have spoken to a few spouses that are going through the same thing, and I have seen some of the effects on their husbands in the short time we were all together for Alumni weekend. I am also aware of the effects on my husband. It might be hard for you to relate if you didn’t play football or some other high impact sport. As a spouse I obviously didn’t play the game, and I didn’t play any impact sports, but I have been married for 25 years to a man that played nine years in the NFL and played in college and high school, about 17 years total playing football. That’s 17 years of getting knocked around and experiencing concussions. I don’t even think you can have an idea unless you have played the game or watched your partner in life go through it. The movie “Concussion” gives a glimpse of what these players and families struggle with. It was a powerful message and so heart wrenching at the same time.

It saddens me and makes me so angry that a multi-billion dollar organization does not help these former players and their families who put in years of hard work to play for them. The families of the alumni are struggling, emotionally, and financially. When husbands are affected by concussions or other physical trauma from the game, there are repercussions. These former players can suffer major depression, outbursts, forgetfulness, anger, isolation, mishandling money, attention issues, short-term memory, difficulty performing daily tasks, having a feeling of mental slowness, difficulty making decisions or processing a lot of information, trouble resolving problems. These things can put a strain on the marriage. (Information on concussion long term effects: Weil Cornell Medical College, Medical News Today)

I believe there is so much more the NFL could be doing to support, to help the players and their families. For instance, health coverage for the former player would be amazing. As many of you know, it is a nightmare acquiring and paying for healthcare. For many years there when we would apply for insurance, the insurance company would refuse to cover pre-existing conditions that my husband had from football. Even if they are now covered, high deductibles and premiums are financially straining. Not to mention the cost when they have to have an operation for an injury that resulted from years on the field. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know what I hear and what I see. It’s horrible! There is not enough being done period.

Some will say “they knew what they were getting into.” Those who make those types of comments don’t have all the facts. I asked my husband if he had known that he could damage his brain resulting in CTE from the physical impact of the game, would he have played. His answer was “No! I knew there was always a risk of breaking a bone, tearing a ligament. But I was never aware of the long-lasting potential of brain damage. When I think about it, most of the collisions we experienced as players weren’t just in the games, it was in the practices.” Sure there is education now, and now players can choose for themselves whether to take the risks. It’s no mystery as to why so many are retiring now from the NFL while in their prime. Unfortunately, the players before CTE was discovered and made public didn’t have the information that current athletes have.

I know football is not the only sport that has issues of concussions and physical trauma to the body, but football is what I know about. I can only freely talk about my experiences. This is an emotional subject for a lot of us. As my fellow sister so sadly said, “just knowing this will never end, is not the light at the end of the tunnel.” She is right, there doesn’t seem to be light. Keana McMahon whose husband, Justin Strzelczyk, death was related to CTE was quoted in an article talking about other spouses who have poured their hearts out to her. She said “There’s no hope to give them, and that’s a hard thing to say to somebody. There’s no hope. He will probably end up dead and you need to protect yourself is all I can say.” Meaning the damage that is done to the brain has not been found to be reversible. Therefore, those players will have to suffer from the effects of playing a game they loved.

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t” 
― Jerry Rice

This post originally appeared on Raina Birden’s blog at http://rainabirden.wordpress.com.


Raina Birden I'm Raina Birden. I grew up in Springfield, Oregon but transplanted to Scottsdale, Arizona (with several moves in between). I’ve been married 24 years to my college sweetheart JJ Birden. We met at the University of Oregon. Nine of those years, I was an NFL wife as my husband pursued his professional football career. I’m the mother of 8 children, 3 biological and 5 nieces and nephews. With such a large family, I am still able to balance being a Wife, Mom, Aunt, business partner and live the healthy lifestyle. I previously worked as a Medical Billing Coding specialist. I recently left the profession to fulfill my entrepreneurial spirit and partnered with my husband in our company Team X 88 Inc. Team X 88 Inc. offers solutions to improve your health and wealth. Check out my blog at RainaBirden.com.


    1. I am just beginning this path. Living in a small town in the Midwest is limiting. My husband never played NFL, but played college ball against several guys who went on to NFL. He tells stories of broken helmets. He remembers not seeing clearly, seeing red instead. He remembers being told that he was going to kill someone if he continued to hit so hard. He has rage. Most conversations end with him screaming at me. He has no problems. It is all my fault. We have seen a psychologist who diagnosed personality disorder. He spends most days in his room watching TV. I am torn by “for better or worse, in sickness and health. I had no idea 25 years ago what I signed up for.
      Are there wife support groups for non NFL wives?

    2. I am so sorry Roxanne, this is definitely not just tied to professional sports. I personally don’t know of any support groups for non-professional sports. But I will do what I can to be a listening ear for you. I know that the women on this site are all supportive lovely people. Please friend me on Facebook, I don’t have the answer for you about your relationship, I only know how I feel about my own situation. That is something you have to decide on your own. Sometimes it takes our men a little bit to see that there is something wrong. They don’t want to admit it at first.

    3. Hello Roxanne,
      I understand what you are going thru. My husband, Former NFL Player Jeff Winans, played 7 years in the pros, but a total of 18 years of playing football. The other years took a toll on his body as well preparing him for the NFL.
      The education today is so much better than it was in those days and even from a few years ago about the repercussions of head trauma later in life as well as the physical injuries that deteriorate over the later years in life.
      There is hope.. You have to keep the faith. It’s not easy when you are blamed for everything. Mainly because they are in denial about having any kind of neurocognitive disorder. My husband did for years until 2010 even after being diagnosed with Bi-polar, manic depression and borderline personality disorder in 2002. I kept praying to God for help and to keep my faith, andJeff found his spirit again, saw that I was willing to stay in the relationship and I learned about how to handle his outbursts better and not be argumentative. Together we became sponges on the brain.
      Unfortuneately, he passed away in 2012 and was diagnosed with CTE. I have dedicated my life to working with former players and their families and try and keep the family unit together.

      Please feel free to contact me as well.. Hugs and Blessings Brandi Winans livespeaker@aol.com

    4. Ladies, I’m also reaching out to y’all, due to my husband of 33 years ,he didn’t get as far as the NFL, but after school and college ball ,where he was a star linebacker he was picked up by a semi-pro farm team for the Redskins, after a year of playing he had sustained a severe knee injury, and was instantly put on a hit list throughout the league, therefore we were told one more hit and he could end up in a wheelchair…ladies, obviously at the time we weighed all info and decided he LOVED the game, but he loved his family more…also you must know we have been together since our senior year of high school, where he also had a severe auto accident involving him driving alittle MGB convertible, and being alittle over 6’2 his head was over the windshield, the car went down an embankment, and popped up and went directly into a 100 year old, where my husbands head hit the top of the windshield and directly into the tree trunk…between the auto accident, and his football playing since he was 11( and he turned 52 the other day) we have approx. 8 documented concussions , but Lord knows we feel there are additions that could be added and make it an astronomical number, but for all his medical professional specialist we keep it to the 8. This man has now been diagnosed with explosive anger disorder, borderline bi-polarism, maniac depression, and on top of all this …He’s an alcoholic! We are also certain we can add CTE to his bountiful list. He’s been through outpatient rehab, but because he’s a engineer with a global company, your only allowed 1 time, then your on your own, and if you don’t beat it, your gone….guess what ladies, he is drinking as much if not more now, but doing it in the garage, and SNEAKING around to run out and get it, then hides it in the garage. And lying about it!! With all the medication he’s on , he is suppose to be on a prescription to make him VERY sick if he drinks any alcohol, or any vinegar products..but here’s a shocker, he doesn’t take this medicine!
      Ladies! I’m at the end of my Proverbial Rope. I just came from the garage and just found 3 -12 packs of beer, that he had hiding in some file cabinets out there. I have dealt with physical abuse, massive abusive outburst that can last for a few hours, to a few days…as someone said here, he never does anything wrong ,anything and everything is MY fault. But when he snaps out of it, there is GREAT remorse, and promises of never doing that again, or at least before noon rolls around. I am trying to stick this out with him, but this living taking 1 step forward and 5 steps back continually is for the birds, and I too didn’t sign up for this!! We have 3 daughters ranging from 30 years old to 18 years old, they really don’t have anything to do with him, since they have witnessed, or overheard the abuse that I have withstood from him for the last 20 years…obviously we once again have been married for very close to 33 years and these issues didn’t even show any sign for 13 years after we were married and at that point signs were very sutle, and were kept to explosive outburst directed at me then going to sleep waking up and not remembering the incident and being totally not in the know..it was chalked up at the time as a seizure and was put on depacote . He has become an expert at concealing these behavioral issues from work, and he weekly travels worldwide, and works from his home office, but this Jekyll and Hyde behavior is devastating ! It at times causes me to reconsider my sanity, he has the ability to truly turn his personality to something else on a dime. This disease not only effects the husband, but the wife, and children. Because of his unstable behavior I really never have people over, I have been forced to make excuses to my friends for his behavior and demeanor at times….this is a man that was totally devoted to his family, he was active in our church and helped me establish a teens group, he coached girls softball teams and was president of our daughters softball assoc. What I have been living with for the last 12 years is not even a shell of what I married many many years ago…sadly, those years and that person are long gone. I am so tired of the isolation and loneliness of living with him I just don’t know what to do….I have been looking at divorce attorneys profiles trying to figure out what to do. I guess I’m just tryin to reach out to ladies that have been or are currently living with what I am . I feel I should stay with him since it’s obvious I’m the only stability in this mans life… Without me he has no punching bag. And basically no one to take care of him.. I would love to hear any suggestions from y’all, again I’m currently as disbaraged as a wife could be, but only for Gods wisdom for when I asked him why I was still here, and he told me ” Loyalty” and assured me he was with me through this struggle, as I well know. But I would love to connect with others that have similar issues.

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