Life After Football

I get a lot of calls from players and their wives asking for direction after they finish playing. It’s understandable as these guys have been on a set track since grade school. Once they retire from football, it’s a huge transition into a world without set practice schedules, game days, cheering fans, locker room camaraderie, agents and managers handling the day to day business, an entire franchise supporting them and one single mission…making it to and winning the Super Bowl. All of a sudden, there’s time to think about the physical price they paid and the consistent beatings their bodies endured. A collision on the field is like a car crash. Now, there’s plenty of time to focus on the pain. No more short term fixes with pain meds and cortisone shots. I’ve seen guys “disappear” from their friends and family and fall into a black hole of depression, weight gain, financial strain and bitterness. I don’t wish that on anyone. The NFL is a tough act to follow. Players rarely exit the game by choice and it’s never under ideal circumstances. It’s one thing to play with injury because when players are still part of the football life and living out their dream. It’s another to live with injury beyond the glory. A client of mine told me that he believes he and his ex-wife would still be together if only they knew that other NFL couples were dealing with the same issues and that the transition process would be difficult and filled with challenges, but was completely normal. He said he just needed someone to talk to that understood what he was going through.

I remember when Ricky finished his 11-year career… it took him a good 8 years to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. The first few months, he didn’t want to leave the house. I recognized he needed time to reflect on his entire experience which started with pee-wee championships, to a high school, then national championship at the University of Notre Dame, to his many accomplishments in the NFL including a Super Bowl. These were the memories (good and bad) that had encompassed his life up until that moment. And now that life was over.

While transitioning from football, it’s a priority for players to get their business in order. Which means make sure taxes are filed, bills are paid, everyone in the family has health insurance. It’s just as important to have a financial plan. After all, age 30 is ancient in NFL years so it’s critical to have a source of stable income. In addition, there are benefits available to injured players, but many have deadlines which once missed, are gone forever, so it’s important to do some discovery. Lastly, just want to remind everyone that transitioning from football to a normal, “civilian” life is a process that may take years and won’t be easy, so take it in stride and consider meditation and yoga to help ease the mind and body and remember you’re not alone.

I’ve compiled these FAQs which I hope are helpful to you.

1.) When is my deadline to apply for Line of Duty Disability? To calculate your “rough” deadline, add your number of credited seasons to the last season you played. For example, if you stopped playing after the 2007-2008 season and you had 8 credited seasons, then add 8 years to January 2008. Your rough deadline to file would be January 2016. If you played for less than 4 credited seasons, you still have 4 years to apply from the last date you played. It’s always best to confirm your exact deadline with the NFL Benefits Office at 800-638-3186.

2.) When is my deadline to apply for Total and Permanent Disability? Vested players have 15 years from their last season to be eligible for the “higher” benefit of $120,000 year. This means you must apply for T&P within 15 years from the date you last played. If you are not vested, you are not eligible to apply for this benefit.

3.) Can I apply for Social Security Disability if I have a disability? What many players don’t realize is that you need enough credits (time you paid in to social security) to be eligible. As a guide, if you were employed (with the NFL or other employer) within the last 5 years, you are probably okay. You’ll want to verify this by visiting www.ssa.gov. and setting up an account. Just click on Benefits, then apply for disability. You can apply on your own online. Typically, if you get denied, request an appeal and get denied again, then you should consider hiring an attorney. It’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney if you are not sure about the process.

4.) What if I am approved for Social Security Disability Benefits? Do I automatically qualify for T&P? Yes; however, you must still submit an application for T&P in a timely manner. This means that you must submit your approval notice from the Social Security Administration to the NFL Benefits Office along with your application for T&P within your 15 year deadline in order to be eligible for the $120,000/year benefit. Otherwise, if your application and SSA approval notice is submitted after the 15 year deadline, then you shall only be eligible to receive the “lower” benefit of $50,000/year.

5.) What if I have already submitted an application for T&P and during the process and I suddenly receive an approval notice from SSA? You have 2 choices: Either submit a new application as of that date and include the SSA approval notice and you should get approved for T&P as of that new application date; or You may go forward with your original application (without consideration of the SSA approval notice) and risk getting denied. The only reason someone would risk getting denied is potentially if they believe they have a strong case and still have time within their deadline to submit a new application if they are denied. Their primary reason to try and get approved on the original application is so that they can receive retroactive benefits based on their original application date.

6.) What are retroactive benefits? When you are approved for disability benefits, you receive back payments starting from 2 months prior to your application date to the date of approval and moving forward.

7.) Am I eligible for filing a workers compensation claim in California? You should always talk to an attorney who specializes in CA workers compensation as the law is constantly changing. However, if the last team you played for was a CA team and you suffered injuries while playing games or practicing in CA, you may be eligible to what’s called a cumulative trauma claim. Often called a CT injury, this describes an injury or impairment which is attributed to several years of playing professional sports, not a specific incident. A specific injury is an injury where you can pinpoint the exact date of injury.

8.) How much are attorneys’ fees for a workers compensation claim in CA? 15%

9.) What are some signs of brain injury? Noticeable changes in the following: short term memory issues, vision problems, anxiety, frustration, loss of patience, irritability

10.) What are signs of depression in NFL players? Not wanting to leave the house for weeks at a time, not wanting to see friends or family, lack of interest in self-grooming

11.) What is The Trust? Do you have to be vested to be eligible for their benefits? The Trust was created by the NFLPA and offers services related to health, career transition, and education to former players. You do not need to be vested to be eligible. playerstrust.com 202-212-6180

12.) What is the 88 Plan? The 88 Plan was named after Hall of Famer and NFL Legend John Mackey who wore #88. I had the opportunity to meet his wife Sylvia Mackey a few years ago and she was an incredible voice for his legacy. The Plan provides retired players up to $88,000 per year for medical and custodial care resulting from dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 1-800-638-3186

13.) Am I going to get paid from the Concussion law suit? A few players called me wanting confirmation they would be receiving a check for a few hundred thousand dollars once the settlement was approved. This is not the case. What a player will receive depends on whether they qualify for a benefit under the settlement agreement. This means, there is a process. There are no automatic payouts. The only monetary payouts will be for players who are diagnosed with ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Dementia. Only certain cases of CTE will be covered. The settlement has been approved but we are playing the waiting game because an appeal was filed earlier this year. All court documents and notice materials can be found at nflconcussionsettlement.com

14.) Where can I go for financial assistance? You can start with NFLPlayerCare.com (1-800-635-4625), www.GridironGreats.org (773-867-8160)

15.) How do I apply for LOD or T&P? What is the process from start to finish? Call 1800-638-3186 and ask for the disability benefits office and request an application. They will mail you an application to fill out.

16.) Do I need an attorney to file for LOD or T&P benefits? No, you do not. However, don’t rely on advice from the benefits office as to what you should include in your application. If you have recent medical evidence of your injuries or conditions, it’s important to include those reports along with your application. And if you haven’t been evaluated by an orthopedic doctor for your orthopedic injuries or a neurologist for your neurological complaints within the last year, it’s worth scheduling an appointment with your own doctors before starting this process.

17.) How can I prepare for my doctors’ appointments? Be honest with yourself. Most of my clients detest the word disability and don’t see themselves as disabled or want anyone to think of them as disabled. Totally normal for former players who are used to being gladiators and have become so accustomed to dealing with the pain, that it becomes a normal part of life. Just remember you are going through a process where you must meet a certain level of disability to qualify for benefits. Don’t downplay your injuries. Don’t downplay your pain. If it hurts, say it hurts. If you can’t sleep at night because of the pain or because of anxiety or stress, be sure to tell the doctor. You are a human being at the end of the day and should be judged as a human being and not as superhuman. Don’t focus on the word…and don’t let this process define you.