Camp Pendleton, Calif. -- Marines and their families were given the unique opportunity to watch football with those who have first-hand experiences as professional athletes.
Former NFL players talked about the Real Warriors Campaign and the transition from one lifestyle to another during the “Game Day” event hosted at the Pacific Views Event Center here Dec. 16.
The event encouraged servicemembers and their families to seek help coping with issues related to transitioning out of the military and mental-health concerns.
“The Real Warrior Campaign is a campaign where the Department of Defense partners up with NFL players to give them an opportunity to tell their story to the Marines,” said Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese, base commanding general and regional authority for five military installations in the Southwestern United States. “The NFL players talk about the challenges they faced when leaving the NFL and going back into the civilian life.”
Former NFL players who have left football use their personal experiences to relate to servicemembers leaving active duty.
“When I retired from the NFL, that’s when my war started,” said former NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. “You’re talking about a guy who played in the super bowl, who broke Jessie Owens’ long jump record, who made the all-rookie team, who did great things in the NFL … who wanted to commit suicide, was depressed, afraid to get help. I went through so many things. But until I reached out and got some help, that’s when my life changed.”
After leaving the NFL, which affected his marriage and finances, Sanders said he got his life back on track by swallowing “that lump called pride” and reaching out for help.
Along with sharing personal experiences, the former NFL players gave words of advice from already going through the transitioning process.
“For the most’s sake, everyone is going to retire as very young individuals, so the best advice I have to give is start planning ahead because one day it is going to happen. One day you are going to be a former player; one day you are going to be a former service member,” said former NFL wide receiver Hank Baskett. “Take some of the time now and plan for when you are done, so when you do lace up your boots for the last time and you go into the real world, you have some sort of plan; you know how to react, and you build where you want to go from there.”
Marines and their families realized the similarities between their heroes and themselves when dealing with changes in their careers.
“It’s very brave of them to be able to stand up in front of all of us and talk about their personal experiences,” said Cpl. Bret Apopaca, a radio operator with 1st Marine Division. “Hank Baskett is my idol, and I would have never thought he went through any of the things he talked about.”
During the end of the event, Marines and their families had the opportunity to take pictures, have lunch, watch football and talk with the former NFL players.
“I really appreciate the players being able to come out and talk to us like this,” said Sgt. Emmanuel Leon, a radio operator with 1st Marine Division here. “It’s nice to know they care about us and what we do.”