What do former NFL football players and military veterans have in common?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
The physical risk is obvious, but there are psychological similarities, too: the macho culture, the violence, the extreme goal orientation, the fierce devotion to teammates.
That, and a painful transition back to the real world.
On Saturday, three former NFL players told Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers and their families they have at least some idea of what they’re going through.
“We all go through the same pains and struggles and depressions,” said Chris Sanders, a former wide receiver who played eight years with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
“I may not have been in the war,” Sanders said, “but when I left the NFL, that’s when my war started. You’ve got a guy sitting in a 4,500-square-foot house, divorced and wanting to commit suicide.”
Sanders and former Seahawks Joe Tafoya and Orlando Huff chatted with about 120 Lewis-McChord soldiers and family members, then watched the Ravens-Broncos playoff game with them at the Nelson Recreation Center.
The former players’ clearest message: If you need help, don’t be afraid to admit it and reach out. You can be whole again.
“When I was playing, I considered myself kind of a superman,” Tafoya said. “You’re used to being the guy everybody comes to for help. Now the tables are turned.”
“One day, the phone calls are not coming,” he said, “and it’s like, ‘What do you do?’ You have to reinvent yourself.”
The players’ visit was orchestrated by the Department of Defense’s “Real Warriors’ Campaign,” a national program launched in 2009 to help persuade soldiers returning from combat to seek psychological help if they need it.
The campaign is sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Saturday’s visit at Lewis-McChord was the third recent NFL event at military installations. A similar “Game Day” was held at Camp Pendleton on Dec. 16 and another at Fort Carson last week.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693