The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.



The Days After

by Jerry Keys

Everyone seems to love you when you're on top. They cheer you on, buy your merchandise and pay outrageous prices to watch you play. Most pro athletes may spend a handful of years in the big show and that's if they are lucky. A very select few reach stardom and flourish for ten years or more. The ones who do not reach the pinnacle simply transition back into society with relative ease. The same can not be said for some superstars.

There have been many who gladly walk away from the limelight after their playing days have concluded. Yet, there have been a number who have not transitioned adequately. They may miss the huge paydays or notoriety. Several mistakes most commonly made are poor investing while active, expected easy transition from player to coach, or being duped into being the financial backer of businesses which go belly-up within a few years.

These outcomes often lead to drug abuse, depression and domestic violence. It was once a cardinal sin to land on the police blotter if you were an athlete. Today, it seems to be passé. Drug testing curtails some drug use while a player is on an active roster but what happens when they hang up their cleats,' or helmets, or high top shoes? These three outcomes tend to all go hand-in-hand. How many times have we read in the newspaper (or more currently the net) where someone has too many drinks and gets into an altercation with their spouse? It is no secret alcohol consumption leads to depression and depression leads to alcohol.

But what happens when it takes another step and leads to either an attempted suicide or an actual suicide? Professional teams offer psychological counseling while they are active. Some extend these services for retired players but not many. Many active and former players refuse to seek counseling for fear of admitting a weakness or convincing themselves they can solve the problem without any assistance. Several years ago I wrote a piece on the tragic death of Donnie Moore. I was just out of high school when this occurred and I had already observed favorite players or managers passing away too early.

Jerry Keys

I remember when Len Bias died after being drafted by the Boston Celtics but the conclusion was clearly accidental. Dick Howser died a year later, in 1987, but was due to a brain tumor. Moore was the first suicide of a player I was very familiar with. Demetria Moore, Donnie's daughter, gave a statement on what drove him to his final acts of desperation:

"When he was cut by Kansas City, he'd really been depressed about that. I mean, here he is, the high-life career...then all of a sudden, it's gone. He comes back home...and the marriage, the family, is all destroyed. I mean, what else does he have left?"

Mike Flanagan...Eternal Oriole.

Last year Mike Flanagan committed suicide, as reported by authorities, by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Reports indicated the wounds were so severe an immediate identification was not made. A year later his wife stated he has struggled with depression for a number of years. This was the same player, who at the age of thirty-five, pitched eleven innings (yes...11...not a typo) for the Toronto Blue Jays on the next-to-last game of the year, in a down to the wire AL East pennant race with the Detroit Tigers. How could a consummate warrior be depressed?

Mike saw a psychiatrist for twenty years in attempts to curtail his negative outlook on life. After years of struggles with alcohol, his wife had thought he was past the issue but later realized he simply became a 'secret drinker.' He had spent most of the last thirty-five years with the Baltimore Orioles, either as a player, a front office executive and briefly a broadcaster. But how could he be depressed to the point of turning to the bottle (there was never any allegations of domestic violence)? Depression continues to carry a stigma of being only an issue for people who are perceived as lazy and effortless. That is extremely sad but what makes matters more disturbing, a majority of people suffer from this at least once in their lifetime.

Some who fall into a deep depression have a very strong support network or have the necessary coping mechanisms to combat the illness. But what about the ones who have neither? Where and who can they turn to?

After a close relative passed away, I found myself in a state of depression. I was enveloped by it before I even realized it. I can admit from firsthand experience, when it gets hold of you, it is similar to a death grip. It will not just 'go away,' it's like seaweed which washes up on the beach and brings with it a stench you will never forget. It slowly recedes and eventually disappears. But the memory of the feeling does not.

You do not have to be a professional athlete to succumb to depression. They just happen to be the ones who make the news reels for reckless behavior. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).