Former players connect with transitioning Soldiers
January 18, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The Hub hosted a "Game Day" Sunday where Soldiers and Families met with four former NFL players to discuss common reintegration challenges facing servicemembers today.
While watching the Denver Broncos' playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former football players and Soldiers shared stories concerning hardships that come with transitioning to civilian life after physical and psychological injuries.
"We have a lot in common with our NFL brothers," said Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander. "We clearly need to take a lesson from our brothers on transition."
Football players often experience difficulties in their post-NFL transition similar to what Soldiers go through after their Army careers end. The former NFL players spent much of their Sunday speaking to Soldiers about the importance of reaching out for help when coping with injuries, physical and invisible.
"When my career ended, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life," said Leonard Renfro, who played as a defensive tackle for three NFL teams. "I didn't even know how to write a resume … you can't be afraid to say 'I need help. Can you help me?'"
Renfro explained factors that discourage football players from seeking care are similar to the concerns that keep Soldiers from reaching out.
"I'm not about all that macho stuff anymore," he said. "I was always told to work through the pain, but not now, if I'm in pain I say something."
Sean Tufts, former linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, elaborated on this advice.
"I didn't want to tell people I was hurt," Tufts said. "I hid my swollen knee behind sweatpants for a while, afraid to tell anyone because I thought I might be cut from the team."
Tufts blew out his knee and waited too long to receive help.
"If I had sought help earlier than I did, I would have only been out for a few weeks," he said. "Instead, I waited and the problem became worse, leading me to retirement because I waited too long to ask for help."
Pfc. Alexander Walton, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is going through the medical board process for knee injuries and spent a lot of time during the Game Day bonding with Tufts over their similar situations.
"When your knees go, you're done, and it is devastating when you can't do what you love to do anymore," said Walton, who now walks with a cane. "(Tufts and I) have a lot in common … it is interesting to learn how others cope with the transition because that is what I'm in the middle of doing right now."
Along with sharing stories with Soldiers, the former NFL players signed autographs and watched the Broncos game with Soldiers and their Families.
The Game Day was hosted in partnership with the Real Warriors Campaign, a program that encourages help-seeking behavior among servicemembers and veterans coping with health concerns.
"Transitioning out is hard and these Soldiers are fighting through things we can relate to," Tufts said. "It takes a special person to ask for help. If you don't ask for help, you don't get help."
Soldiers can receive help anonymously as well as access to research tools and resources at the Real Warriors Campaign website, http://www.realwarriors.net.