By Mr. Michael KleimanNovember 7, 2019
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- During his hour-long appearance at U.S. Transportation Command on Thursday, Oct. 31, Eric Hipple, who played quarterback for the National Football League's Detroit Lions from 1980 to 1989, addressed his gridiron glories, experiences combatting depression, and transitioning from trauma to triumph following his son's suicide.
After graduating from Warren High School, Downey, California, Hipple continued his football career at Utah State University, Logan, Utah, where he excelled as the Aggies' signal caller from 1976 to 1979, earning All-Pacific Coast Athletic Conference honors his senior year.
"My dad encouraged me to play football as a youth. I wanted to belong to something, and being on a football team helped me to do so," said Hipple. "It was during my time at Utah State when I experienced the initial signs of what I found out later to be depression."
Picked in the fourth round of the 1980 National Football League draft by the Detroit Lions, he earned his first start on Oct. 19, 1981, on a nationally-televised Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. The Lions won 48 to 17, and for the next eight years, Hipple continued his professional football career, playing in 102 games, passing for 10,711 yards, and completing 54 percent of his passes. By the end of the 1980s, he transitioned from the camaraderie of the Lions to managing his own insurance business.
Shortly thereafter, his work and life, however, fell apart.
For example, as his wife drove him to the Detroit airport, he handed her a note, which stated "I'm sorry, I love you," and then he suddenly jumped out of the vehicle on the freeway. While in the hospital following the incident, Hipple shrugged off his impulsive decision.
"I put on a football uniform from ages 9 to 32, and when I left the NFL in 1989, I lost a support system," stated Hipple. "After the spur of the moment jump from the car, I was still in the dark about my depression."
Another trauma subsequently befell Hipple involving his teenage son, Jeff, who had been shuttling his life between his dad in Michigan and his mother in Utah. Torn by his parents' divorce, Jeff had told his father he had not felt good. Hipple, in turn, got medical help for his son, but resulting lab work showed no health issues. Tragically, Jeff decided to take his own life in April 2000.
Former Pro Quarterback Eric Hipple discussed his journey from tragedy to triumph
To deal with this family tragedy, Hipple turned to alcohol to deaden his emotions. His drinking resulted in a driving-under-the-influence arrest and his spending almost two months in jail. While incarcerated, he had time to think about finally dealing with the mental health issues impacting him, as well as changing his life's direction.
In 2003, Hipple got the needed psychological support from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor. He was then diagnosed with depression. Hipple also realized he was not alone with this diagnosis.
"The stigma is in getting help for mental health issues, but we need to bust through that," Hipple said "We're all works in progress…life is a journey. It's a continuum."
Since acknowledgement of his depression, Hipple has partnered with the NFL and the Department of Defense to help both players and military members, respectively, successfully transition from one profession to another. He has also employed his new calling to assist former Detroit Lions players hampered by mental health problems through the Peer Pride program.
Hipple's presentation at USTRANSCOM can be viewed at https://youtu.be/3F2fADXozb0/.
"Our stories shape us, but they don't define us. What defines us is what we do now," stated Hipple. "A trauma can lead to triumph, if somebody believes in you. I am very fortunate and thankful to have others in my life who cared and still do."
USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power. Powered by dedicated men and women, we underwrite the lethality of the joint force, advance American interests, and provide our nation's leaders with strategic flexibility to select from multiple options and create multiple dilemmas for adversaries.