Life After Pro Sports
A life in pro football can open many doors to successful, post-NFL playing careers. For many, however, retiring from the game can be challenging.
For years, their lives are focused on one goal, achieving success. Once that goal is no longer in front of them, adapting to a new lifestyle and career outside of the structured elite sport world can be a traumatic transition.
Alge Crumpler had spent more than 20 years keeping his body in peak condition. He was at the top of his game throughout high school in Greenville, N.C., college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the NFL, as part of highly structured training routines with strong coaching, and a support system to optimize his performance. But after football, there was no routine to follow, no position to compete for, no teammates to collaborate with, no Super Bowl trophy to aspire to. His body ached, he lost the motivation to exercise, and food became his comfort.
Without the discipline of a regiment and a team, Alge gained weight fast. Mounting health concerns, exacerbated by his condition, left him struggling, insecure and unhappy. He disconnected from his family, preferring to stay at home, missing family vacations and activities. For an NFL legend beloved by teammates and fans, this was not what he envisioned for his retirement—physically or mentally. “It felt to me like he was that guy who was drowning,” said Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons. “He didn’t really know how to help himself.”
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Facing the Truth
Alge’s former Falcons teammate Warrick Dunn has experienced the same pattern with many players of his generation.
“All players are going to have transitional issues because once you leave the game of football, there’s nothing else you can do in life that gives you the same high,” he said.
Former professional players can be prone to experiencing significant weight gain, all while experiencing chronic pain, hypertension, blood sugar irregularities and sleep apnea. Alge had all these symptoms and his most critical health metrics were slumping. “I was afraid to go to the doctor to get a checkup,” remembered Alge. “I didn't want to know what was happening to my body. You know, that fear of the unknown.”
It was during a routine meeting between the Falcons and Emory Healthcare, the team’s official healthcare provider, when Alge’s situation was discussed, and the idea of a health program designed for him came about. Tameka Rish, a Falcons executive and longtime friend of Alge’s, knew Emory Healthcare could help: “They could use their expertise to create a case study and documentary following him through the process. Then when we got to the other side, not only would we have a story to tell, but I truly believe we would change his life.”
Together, the Falcons and Emory Healthcare approached Alge with the concept to help him get his mental and physical health back on track – most importantly, a concrete plan Alge could follow. He knew he could help himself and share his story and help others. Faced with a potentially life-threatening situation, Alge embraced the opportunity.
A Team Approach
Emory Healthcare has been the Falcons' official team health care provider for many years. As the leading academic health care system in Georgia, the organization is a strong partner for Falcons players through every aspect of care, both on and off the field. Dr. Scott Boden, director of Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, was asked to assemble a comprehensive and integrated team of physicians to help Alge.
“Medicine nowadays is a team sport,” Dr. Boden pointed out. “That’s why we invited a number of people from different specialties to join the team, each with an area of focus to help Alge through his journey. He met his dream team for the first time in 2018, sharing his story and medical history to help the care team craft a plan. Alge kicked off his game plan by doing something he was afraid to do earlier—getting a comprehensive checkup and analysis by a primary care physician.”
Throughout his journey, Alge was treated by experts providing highly specialized care for the unique health issues of a former NFL player. Specialists in endocrinology, primary care, orthopaedic sports medicine, psychiatry and cardiology were part of the team. The doctors gave Alge a regimen to follow and helped him stay on track throughout the process.
Alge joined a kickboxing gym near his home early on and started working out regularly with a former teammate, Chris Crocker, shedding nearly 60 pounds in the first 100 days. “He is very competitive,” confirmed Alge’s wife, Jennifer. “When he sets a goal, he’s going to hit that goal because he doesn’t want to tell anybody he didn’t reach something he was going for.”
But two years into his transformation, COVID-19 caused a backslide. Reduced access to the gym and a fallback to a more sedentary lifestyle, combined with his knee pain, resulted in Alge adding 30 pounds. Leaning on his family and social network for support to get through the COVID setback helped, but it wasn’t easy. He relied on his relationships as well as Emory Healthcare to get back on track, and acknowledged, “Without those previous relationships I’m not sure that would have happened.”
It has been four years since the Falcons, Emory Healthcare and Alge teamed up to change his life. After all that time, he still impresses his doctors with his drive and motivation. “I’m glad I’m committed to a routine at this point in my life,” Alge said. “My health matters and I’ll continue to work. I know that.” He has a healthier outlook on life and is much more fit. More importantly, all of his dangerous health metrics have turned from red to green.
“I think it's safe to say,” suggested Dr. Boden, “if Alge had not made a decision to take control of his own health—sought the partnership and teamwork with Emory Healthcare—undoubtedly, he would've been taken from us at far too young of an age. I hope people will look at this and say, ‘If he could do this, I could do this.’”
Watch the full documentary
Former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler worked with Emory Healthcare physicians on a multidisciplinary holistic health program to get his health back on track in his life after football.
Emory Healthcare can help.
Taking care of your health isn’t always easy. If you’re ready to make a change, call Emory Healthcare at 770-525-1455. A nurse specialist will help get you started on your health care journey.