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Service Members, Former NFL Players Share Common Ground on Game Day

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about challenging experiences with someone who has been down a similar path. That’s the premise behind a program that puts service members together with former NFL players to watch football games, socialize and discuss common reintegration challenges, and through those exchanges, help break down barriers to seeking help for psychological health concerns or traumatic brain injuries. 

This is the third year Real Warriors Campaign, sponsored by Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, partnered with National Football League Players Association to host “Game Day” events at military installations. In December 2012 and January 2013, nearly 300 service members and families heard former NFL players share their difficulties with transitioning from the NFL experience. By talking candidly about their struggles and getting help, these former professional athletes hoped service members and families coping with psychological health issues and transitioning from the military would embrace their messages, such as: 

  • Unlike visible wounds, psychological wounds are often invisible and can go untreated if not identified. Support and healing are greatly assisted by early intervention
  • Reaching out is a sign of strength
  • Major life transitions can be more difficult than you expect. However, care and support resources are available and they work

The first “Game Day” event of this season happened Dec. 16 at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Former NFL players Chris Sanders, Hank Baskett, Gerald Alexander and George Wrighster spent the afternoon with Marines, sailors and their families talking about the importance of taking advantage of resources available to help military members cope with emotional and psychological health concerns. 


Hank Baskett

Former wide receiver Hank Baskett holds up a sign of thanks for service members. (Photo courtesy of Real Warriors Campaign)

“Being too tough could actually be your greatest weakness; you need to understand that help is out there,” said Hank Baskett. 
Former NFL players Jason Kaiser, Chris Sanders and Sean Tufts joined soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., Jan. 6, for the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks matchup. The players mingled with soldiers and families and discussed how asking for help, no matter what the situation, shows strength, and the sooner the problem is identified, the sooner a resolution is possible.


Former NFL players Chris Sanders, Sean Tufts and Jason Kaiser pose with Army Col. David Grosso, Fort Carson Garrison Commander. (Photo courtesy of Real Warriors Campaign)

“I went through those struggles,” said Chris Sanders. “I went through the depression. I went through the doubt... I went through losing my marriage. All those things a lot of the troops go through. I didn't want any help, but until I had to go out and seek help, that's when things started to change.” 
A viewing of the nail-biting Baltimore Ravens playoff win against the Denver Broncos Jan. 12 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., marked the final NFL “Game Day” event of the season. Former NFL players Orlando Huff, Chris Sanders and Joe Tafoya spoke with soldiers, airmen and family members about some of the struggles and pain they felt after leaving professional football — experiences some service members may relate to leaving active duty.


Former defensive end Joe Tafoya (left) and Shane Fale examine a football Fale brought with him, pointing out several autographs of other NFL players. (Photo by Scott Hansen, Northwest Guardian)

“When I was playing, I considered myself kind of a superman,” said Joe Tafoya. “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, and it’s like ‘What do you do?’ You have to reinvent yourself.” 
The Real Warriors Campaign raises awareness of the signs and symptoms of psychological health concerns and encourages those coping with invisible wounds to reach out for the psychological health care and support they need. If you’re interested in learning more about the campaign and finding psychological health resources, visit the campaign at and on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments (2)

  • Bradford Hutchingson 29 Jan

    Go ahead. Continue to expect that Wounded Warriors just need to "go get help", and we can watch the body count rise... Continue to expect that "psychiatry / psychiatrists", and their poison pills, have much to offer, and we can watch the carnage continue... Keep RE-INFORCING "stigma" every time it's mentioned, and more will choose to die, rather than choosing life... This NFL/WW partnership is good, great, even, but why perpetuate stereotypes, myths, and misunderstandings?......

    Sorry, Patton, you don't win a war by making the other guy die...that's what's wrong with Veterans, and VA "healthcare" today...

    With SUICIDE as the ENEMY, the best way to "win" that "war", is to quickly work to where you need not fight it at all... IMHO...
  • William D'Emilio, Jr. 29 Jan

    indeed there is more common ground between the NFL & troops...taking ground at times just inches or feet...dodging danger from all sides...responding instantly to just maintain forward momentum...keeping your balance while moving through danger... and keeping in mind the rest of the Team you work with...conscious it can all end in a moment of hesitation...driven to succeed at all costs...of course the pay differential remains to be explored !! =)

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