Tackle TBI with NFL Alumni

Craig McEwen

~ former tight end in the National Football League (NFL) for the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers, he shares with us his experiences with TBI and new initiatives by the NFL / NFL Alumni to better protect younger players. As this week leads in to Super Bowl LI, between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, take a moment to hear from a veteran player, member of a Super Bowl winning lineup, as he shares his story with us.

 

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Crossing the Line

Craig always dreamed of being a pro football player.  He didn't realize that his career would start by crossing the player's strike line, but that's what happened.  Craig was playing college football in Utah when he got the call from the Washington Redskins.  He would get the chance at the career he dreamed of, but to get on the field, he would have to sign on to play when the other players were on strike.  Craig jumped at the chance just to get on the field.  Once the strike was over, he was officially hired on.   He became part of the Super Bowl winning team in 1987.  From there, Craig was recruited to the San Diego Chargers where he spent the next 3 years. 

Craig was what's referred to as  "lunch pail" player - he was one of the guys that knew he needed to stay focused and be a good member of the team - his role was not one of show boating - he was in it for the love of the game and the team.  His goal was to stay on the field, so he gave his all every time.  That fierce determination got Craig his years in the NFL, but it also plays a factor in the repercussions he now deals with due to his career.  When you give your all in a high-contact sport, you're bound to suffer some injuries.,  Everyone knows that, but what Craig didn't realize was that it would be the invisible injuries that affected him the most.  Craig's body took a lot of hits and rough tumbles during his years on the field.  He had to stop playing after neck, back and foot injuries.  After some back surgery, he even tried to make a comeback in the European league for a year, but his physical injuries prevented him from sustaining a career as a player.  Although Craig still has some physical difficulties, it was his head injuries that have most affected his life.

Criag McEwen washington redskins Super Bowl
Washington Redskins tight end Craig McEwen (32) in action during the Redskins 30-21 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals on September 25, 1988 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

The Repercussions of Concussions

When Craig left the NFL, his life carried on pretty nicely for about 10-12 years: he has a long term relationship which produced a daughter, he owned a successful bar and then opened a personal training franchise.  Life was good.  But somewhere around 2011, Craig's life took a downward turn.  He had been dealing with some residual physical pain due to his bodily injuries and began self-medicating with alcohol and pain pills, he got into a bad business deal and lost any financial stability he had, and his relationship with his long-term girlfriend ended, so he was now alone, in pain, and lacked the insight to see past his current state of affairs.  That's when Craig started noticing how his mind and emotions were being affected.  He dealt with bouts of depression, foggy memory, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, and felt hopeless after what his life was turning into. 

A New Lease on Life

It was through his physical and emotional battle with himself that Craig discovered that the cognitive symptoms he was experiencing (depression, self-loathing, foggy brain, etc) were actually tied into his repeated head injury and his commons were symptoms of repeated concussions.  Since 2012, Craig has been seeking personal growth and healing.  He entered a treatment facility in 2012 to aid him with getting some perspective on his long-term symptoms and how to cope with them.  He followed this with seeking personal growth seminars, personal coaching, psychotherapy and educating himself.  Although Craig can be his own worst enemy (as many people who suffer with debilitating emotional symptoms can be to themselves), he is on a new, humble path in life.  He has dedicated himself to charitable service and advocacy for fellow athletes and combat veterans. 

From Fallen Pro to President

Four years ago, Craig had the opportunity to breathe new life into the local San Diego Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association.  He became the President of the chapter and has dedicated all his efforts on behalf of the association to focus on coordinating charitable events to fund research into 1. Making football and other contact sports less dangerous, 2.  Helping combat veterans gain funding and access to medical and emotional health providers, 3.  Raising funds and donations to help kids in need, and 4.  To coordinate events with experts who can help the former players in any and all aspects of thier lives through actual assistance and through education. 

 

Where to Next?

For as much as Craig still has some pretty rough days due to his symptoms, he is one of the most genuine and humble people around.  He knows telling of his tougher times can, and does, really help others.  Take a listen to hear Craig's story and all that is going on behind the scenes in research, playing football safer and the charitable work being done to not only those on the retirement side of their pro-ball careers, but also those currently playing and the future generations of players.  If you are interested in having Craig speak on your show or at your event or would like to get in touch with him to find out more, or to get involved and become an associate member of the NFL Alumni Association, he would be happy to hear from you. 

This episode was truly inspiring to to me.......I hope it is for you too.

 

Resources:

Craig McEwen:  You can reach Craig at sandiego@nflalumni.org

Concussed:  This is a 18 minute documentary made in 2012 featuring Craig at his most vulnerable.  This was tough for his to do, but it did help him refocus his life and pushed him towards a brighter future.

Invisible Scars:  A book by Bart Billings, Ph.D. - this book takes an in-depth look at how to combat Post Traumatic Stress through alternative methods to medication.

 

 


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Today, the 11th of November, known variously as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or Veterans Day, we honor the memory of the Fallen and the sacrifices of our Veterans.
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Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance

 

Jeff Dill

 ~ a retired Fire Captain and also a Counselor, he founded the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, whose mission is to raise awareness of mental health issues affecting firefighters and EMTs in an effort to decrease the growing number of suicides among them. Through outreach and education, FFBHA aims to better educate counselors and chaplains as to the different culture of the Fire service as well as provide firefighters and EMTs with training and workshops to prepare them for life before, during and after Service.

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For 26 years a firefighter, Jeff began as a volunteer and then went career in 1995.  FFBHA was founded after Hurricane Katrina – when firefighters from Palatine Rural Protection Fire district came back from rendering assistance, they wanted to see their EAP counselors to discuss the emotional impact of what they had experienced in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, the feedback on their experiences was that the counselors didn’t understand the firefighter culture.  

Jeff wanted to find a way to change that.  He went back for his Masters in counseling and in 2009 founded Counseling Service for FireFighters with the aim of educating his brothers and sisters on depression and anxiety.  But in 2010, he started getting calls from Departments around the country asking if he knew anything about firefighter suicides.  At the time, Jeff didn’t but soon realized, when he tried to collect the data, that no one was keeping records on this topic.  
FFBHA is a 501c3 and is the only service in the U.S. that tracks and validates data on suicides among firefighters and EMTs.  

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance   ffbha.org

On the day of the interview less than 3 weeks ago, there were 92 suicides reported for 2015. Today, the 10th of November, this number has increased to 99. With estimates of a 30% reporting rate among those who know about FFBHA, the actual number of firefighters suffering from behavioral health issues is projected as being much higher.   

There appears to be insufficient training to raise the awareness of these men and women to understand how what they are going to see and experience on the job can affect them emotionally. 
The work of the FFBHA helps to spread the word about the factors that can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions, but it as a way of also reducing the number of addictions, untreated depression and anxiety through education and awareness.  

WORKSHOP THEMES
1. be direct when talking to each other
2. challenge with compassion - if you see or hear something
3. do an internal size-up of whats happening in your life

Jeff and his crew train the fire fighters to take a personal inventory of themselves to understand how their circumstances are affecting them, and how these situations have changed since the days of the structure fires alone.

WORKSHOP PROGRAMS
* Ambassador Program:
Enroll firefighters and counselors into FFBHA protocol to provide greater reach nationally

* Saving Those Who save others
In depth training in firefighter and ems suicide awareness and prevention,including warning signs specific to the fire service
Communication and Role-play exercises to prepare for direct communication in times of need

* A firefighter's life
A program for chaplains and counselors wanting to work with fire and EMS personnel to understand the culture. Participants get to gear up and practice a Search and Rescue exercise to better understand the rigors of the job.

* Saving those who save others family edition
Recognize how lifestyle is affecting families and children

* Behavioral health program development class
Essential elements needed in the creation of behavioral health program tailored to Fire and EMS

* Saying Goodbye and Emotional Detachment:
  a workshop for those entering retirement from the fire service, as perceived loss of identity following separation is problematic.

  - -
 
 FFBHA is in the process of updating their website .
The new site will provide more resources of trained counselors for available states. In the meantime, you can find the contact details of current FFBHA ambassadors who may be closer to you  at ffbha.org
 
  - -
 
 
 5 Bugles 4 Change
To let people know that those members who sign up are dedicated to making changes in behavioral health in their organizations. Fire Chiefs, training officers, chaplains and even firefighters who sign up receive a certificate to this effect.
 
  - -
 
The National Fallen Firefighter foundation has a memorial for firefighters lost in the line of duty.
With the success of the family retreat program, an upcoming FFBHA project is a Memorial Site for fallen brothers and sisters lost to suicide, where family can visit and pay their respects.

Contact

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance ffbha.org
  3655 W. Anthem Way
  Suite A-109-374
  Anthem, AZ 85086

Office: 847-209-8208
FAX:   623-388-3642
info@ffbha.org

Linked-in: Jeff Dill

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