“I’d been playing since I was six or seven. Football’s all I know.”

I dare you to read former North Carolina player Ryan Hoffman’s heartbreaking story

“Look, I’m still in tiptop physical shape and can probably run a marathon,” Hoffman said, the words tumbling out of a mouth missing a tooth that was knocked out in a street fight. “It’s my brain that keeps me from being a productive member of society. I’m physically very strong, but I’m mentally so weak. Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, but I used to be normal, you know?

“I’m confident — well, I’m pretty sure — that football had something to do with it.”

Football’s toll on its participants is well established. We know about dozens of former N.F.L. players who were left with severe brain damage from repeated blows to the head. Their stories often contain disturbingly similar details — depression, substance abuse, memory loss, dementia — and their brain damage was always revealed posthumously.

But there are many more former players out there wondering if they are football’s next casualties. Most of those players are not famous. Most never made a dime off the game. They are relatively anonymous men who played the sport in college and only later, for some reason or another, have found themselves struggling in life.

Just like their N.F.L. counterparts, Hoffman and those former college players have been left to wonder: Did football do this? Are the hits to the head I took the reason for my decline? Or would I be in this condition even if I’d never played a down?

They might never know the answer, because a definitive answer might not exist.

Hoffman blames football for scrambling his brain, but at this point it is impossible to disentangle what could be football-related brain injuries from his subsequent drug use and possibly genetic mental illness. He simply cannot be sure. No one can.

… and not see Mark Richt’s Paul Oliver Network in a different, less cynical way.  I know I can’t.

21 Comments

Filed under Life After Football

21 responses to ““I’d been playing since I was six or seven. Football’s all I know.”

  1. Brandon (Version1)

    After years of working with people trying to recover from illegal drug abuse and practicing lae that’s where my money is. Let’s go after the damn entertainment industry for glorifying that lifestyle for decades. Take those billions then I’ll talk to you about football.

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    • DawgPhan

      Or football caused brain damage led him to self medicate with drugs.

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      • PatinDC

        I wish there was a like button for this comment.
        Too many people are willing to just write him off as just another addict. What caused that?
        The story is sad no matter what the cause? We live in the richest country in the world, yet we let people rot on the streets. Sad.

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      • Brandon (Version1)

        Stand on the firing line of this nation’s court system. Its not football ruining this culture. It’s drugs.

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    • tswadog

      Brandon sits outside my office, just a super young man with a bright future

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  2. Say what you will about Coach Richt and his won-loss record and ability to win big games. The record is the record and that is a singularly important defining metric in the world of college football. Easily measured and interpreted.

    What is not as easy to interpret is the impact Coach Richt has on the lives of his players, during and after their time at Georgia. I am sure that every fan of every school has stories of how the coach cares for its players but given the broad evidence, and the very public stances Coach has taken on issues of morality, responsibility and maturity for his players, I don’t know of anyone who leads a top Division I program who does it with more commitment to caring for the whole person. I know things will slip; Coach is imperfect, just like me but on balance, he is getting it done in taking care of his players and trying to point them in the right way.

    Each of us can decide which of these metrics we use as a grid to view this program and life in general. I place myself in the camp that the latter is more important than the former because the impact a man has on his family and his society is ultimately far more meaningful than wins and losses.

    That said, I hope the Dawgs are national champions every year. And I always will.

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    • Justin

      This.

      Well said, thank you.

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      • Scorpio Jones, III

        Thanks Roswell, could not have said it better my own self.

        It is so easy to add up numbers former Richt in the NFLBusiness and point to this as meaningful, when the truth of the matter, it seems to me, is more difficult to quantify. The best way, again, it seems to me, to assess Mark Richt’s ability to help young men become good men is to look at their lives after football. I am glad my football coach does more than pay lip service to this.

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  3. Hogbody Spradlin

    Repetitive impact injuries could be a genuine threat to the game. It may take a decade more to fully develop the empirical evidence, and I suppose more decedents’ brains will be examined, but somebody’s going to find some data.

    I heard once (and invite clarification) that concussions actually occur the side of the brain opposite the impact; from the wave action of the cranial fluid ‘sloshing.’ If that’s true, how can helmets be modified, if at all?

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    • Macallanlover

      Good question. I feel there are better helmet designs coming to absorb the shock impact of the hit and that should reduce the amount of “sloshing” on the other side but no doubt there will always be danger of head shots in all contact sports. I do not think football is as dangerous as some other sports, it is just played by more athletes who are known by more people in this country.

      It is too early to see the impact of more immediate action being taken by coaches and trainers to the symptoms of head injuries. This may not address the long term, repetitive hits issue but we have all seen players put back into games after being knocked silly. It will get better, but we will have to accept some risk.

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    • Gurkha Dawg

      You are 100% correct. The brain sloshes back and forth inside the cranial cavity, striking both side of the skull. Very little can be done to prevent this. Check out the restraining systems for the heads of Nascar drivers. They are unbelieveable. The only way to protect a player’s brain would be to construct a padded steel cage around the head and restrain the head inside of it. Probably wouldn’t work for football.

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      • This is what worries me…my kid wants to play football badly. I swore I would never be one of these over-protective parents…but there is not enough information out there on this topic. And what info there is…is scary as shit. I keep telling him that he only gets the one brain and he’ll need it for a lot longer than he could play football. I wonder how many parents feel this way…and how long this attitude will take and to what extent it will affect the college and pro games (with a smaller pool of kids playing).

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        • Gurkha Dawg

          Yep, I feel the same.My wife is a Pediatrician so there is no way my sons can play football. It’s kind of sad but like you say, we only have one brain.

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        • Russ

          I’m not in your boat (I have a young daughter), but I absolutely wouldn’t let her play any game that involves repeated head shots. I believe this issue will ultimately kill football as we know it.

          As for the Paul Oliver Network (and other efforts like it), this is where the millions of dollars from TV should go, to help understand the effects, develop controls (if possible), and help those that were affected by it.

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  4. Reservoir Dawg

    This is where the NCAA needs to get on the stick. If they won’t establish a fund to help former athletes with CTE issues then they need to look to folks like Mark Richt to build networks to help the boys. We get a lot from these guys in terms of entertainment. We spend way too much money and time watching them put their health on the line. Maybe we ought to start a challenge. For every dollar we spend on UGA football in a year (Hartman Fund, tickets, hotels, likker, etc), we try to match that giving to the Paul Oliver Network. To me, that is being all in.

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  5. Normaltown Mike

    This is another indictment of UNC’s athletic program, IMHO.

    I know several UGA OL from the exact same era and they never got an NFL gig but they also aren’t living under bridges. Point being, programs owe it to players to prepare them for careers other than football.

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    • PansyTheDawg

      While UNC has shown a lack of integrity lately, former UGA athletes have also suffered tragedy. Unfortunately, this is the result of the football-wide problem of viewing players merely as replaceable short-term investments, especially in CFB where they are relatively cheap investments and more easily replaced. I’m proud that Richt and UGA seem genuinely interested in our athletes as students and people.

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  6. Jack Klompus

    If anyone sees disengenious or alterior motives in the Paul Oliver Network then they clearly haven’t been paying attention to UGA football since 2001.

    You don’t stop and think about it all the time, but there has to be a lot of people out there in similar states (probably severe, but messed up in some way) that have been forgotten about after their 4 years of glory. I know its their choice, but its not what you think you are signing up for when you’re 18,

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  7. Keese

    Its a tough reality when a dream or goal for the majority of your life suddenly vanishes and you realize that all the time, focus and effort you’ve put forth is no longer relevant. There’s also the camaraderie aspect that’s gone as well. It can be very hard to transition your self-identity once college is over. The good news for these kids is there’s so much more to life after sports but hard for them to realize at that moment.

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