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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Fire and Iron VS. TBI and PTSD

Matt Shobert

 ~ Now retired Fire Chief and Ironman athlete, Matt Shobert shares with us the details of his near fatal accident on the line, and how his life changed due to TBI / PTSD. His story of survival, which he attributes in part to his physical fitness, will inspire you. His experiences with PTSD since the accident have motivated him to speak out and share his story to assist fellow firefighters across the nation who may be suffering in silence, but also to help remove the stigma of PTS(d) for all.

 

 

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 Introducing Matt Shobert

I thought I had a fair amount of initials after my name, but here’s Matt Shobert MA, EFO, CFO, MIFireE. Matt had been the Fire Chief for the Murrieta Fire Department (MFD) since March 2011, and has served as Fire Chief for two other jurisdictions prior to joining the MFD team. He holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science. He is also a 2007 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program, has been four times accredited as a Chief Fire Officer Designee (CFOD) and was recently conferred Membership into the Institution of Fire Engineers (MIFireE). Chief Shobert completed the arduous 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run - "140.6" Ironman Arizona in Tempe on 11/17/13. On top of that, he’s had a happy double-decade long marriage. He was living an exemplary life.

Matt’s Life-Changing Event

But everything changed on July 2, 2014. On that day, Chief Shobert was on a seemingly routine outing. He went out to a field to observe a brush clearing. Murrieta California is a hot, inland town and as any people are aware, brush fire prevention is a high priority in areas like this, especially in Southern California. The Chief was out by himself when the accident occurred. When you hear what happened to Chief Shobert, you can’t help but truly respect and appreciate his innate instincts to get himself help and his utter resiliency. The Chief shares the details of his accident for the first time publicly with me on the podcast. Please listen to hear Matt tell his story in his own words.

Recovery

Matt went through several surgeries and still may be tasked with undergoing a few more. As you heard in the episode (if you didn’t listen yet, click here to do so), Matt is put together physically, but his emotional wounds are healing more slowly. The struggle is real. Matt is dealing with effects of both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. He has done extensive emotional therapy under the care of a Licensed Behavioral Health Clinician since the accident.

He has gone through avoiding the area of the accident (which he was hard-pressed to do when he still lived in Murietta), nightmares, anxiety/panic attacks, angry outbursts, suicidal thoughts, slow thought processes and general lack of interest in leaving his home at times or going to places where there may be crowds of people. Though his emotional struggles are daunting, he is getting better each day. He has incorporated exercise, continues his talk therapy, calls on emotional support from his wife and others and credits his dog, Butters, for giving him some added support and love, as well as forcing him to get out of his home and walk him as a major part of his recovery.

Matt has recently begin to train to become an Ironman athletic trainer – to keep him fit and to get back into the athletic world he misses. He’s looking forward to training others to accomplish their triathlon goals. He also is focusing his life towards telling his story as he did on this episode. He wants to help others understand the reality of what it’s like to live with post traumatic stress, and also to allow those in the fire service who are dealing with it feel less stigmatized and to ask for help when they need it. Matt is dedicating his life to giving back and helping others. A true example of personal resilience and resolve and restoration of hope for his new future.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

For more information on PTSD, please see our separate post on the subject here.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Traumatic Brain Injury is described as follows:

"Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation."

 

matt-linkedin

Contact

Linked-in: matt-shobert-ma-efo-cfo-mifiree-ironman

email:         mjshobert@gmail.com

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Resources

Fire Fighters Behavioral Health AllianceFFBHA

North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network:
NAFFVN

Fire Fighters Wellness Initiative: IAFF WFI

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder via National Institute of Mental Health: PTSD/NIMH

For local support in your community, check out the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's page on PTSD Resources: NAMI/PTSD

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website offers a wealth of information on TBI, prognosis, treatment and resources if you or someone you care for is in need of help regarding their TBI. NINDS/TBI

National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury : tbinrc.com