NFL Alumni, Sanford Health team up on lifelong player health

NFL Alumni Health will be a resource for regenerative health and wellness

A retired pro football player speaks to two Sanford Health News reporters on camera at the Sanford Fieldhouse.

Sanford Health will help former NFL players and their families live healthy lives beyond their pro football careers in a new health initiative announced this week.

The NFL Alumni Association is made up of former professional football players and others with close connections to the game.

They inform, assist and serve those who have left the field. Helping them do that is Sanford Health, a well-matched partner in delivering on those goals.

As the NFLAA continues to expand in the ways it aids its members and their families, so too will Sanford’s role increase.

On Feb. 4, the organization announced a new platform that will expand and enhance the services and care provided the NFLAA membership.

This new platform, NFL Alumni Health, will build on the work already being done by an organization that has been around since 1967.

Sanford Health as team player

Sanford’s role will be in supplying expertise and counsel as the NFLAA charts an expanded course in delivering on its stated missions:

  • “Caring for Kids” is a way for alumni to give back to their local communities by raising money for youth-related charities.
  • “Caring for Our Own” is focused on improving the health and well-being of alumni and their families by providing personal support services and benefits for life after the game.
  • “Caring for Our Community” is focusing on partnerships that support local communities.

Successfully addressing these goals involves extensive collaboration. That’s where Sanford comes in, particularly in serving the health needs of retired players and addressing the concerns of their families.

“Our mission is to improve the lives and well-being of the people in our community,” said Paul Hanson, president and CEO of Sanford Sioux Falls. “That’s in perfect alignment with the goals of the NFL Alumni.”

Sports medicine, preventive care, research

The particulars of Sanford’s involvement in the platform are being fine-tuned, but are likely to cover elements such as concussion research, repetitive-use injuries and promoting healthy lifestyles.

“We want to create an atmosphere where players who helped build the NFL brand can use our NFL alumni brand to work in their communities and improve their communities,” said NFLAA president Bart Oates.

“It’s about outreach: What can we do to improve the lives of our colleagues and the communities they live in?”

Oates is a three-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowl center who played in the NFL with the New York Giants (1985-93) and San Francisco 49ers (1994-95). He was getting his first view of Sanford Health on a recent trip to South Dakota.

Along with NFLAA colleagues Kyle Richardson and Billy Davis, both of whom made a visit to the Sanford Sports Complex on behalf of their organization in August, Oates got a boots-on-the-ground taste of the ongoing partnership.

“It’s even more impressive when you get a chance to see it,” Oates said. “You really see the time, effort and vision invested in here. This is the future.”

NFLAA members’ post-career needs

That future involves depth and scope with a mutual emphasis that goes well beyond what many would consider to be conventional responsibilities for community health care facilities.

“It’s not just a hospital,” Oates said. “Sanford is not just about people who are not feeling well. It’s about taking people who are well and helping them stay well so that they might live better and more productive lives. It might sound a little contradictory but they help people stay out of hospitals. That’s very consistent with our long-term goals as well.”

Richardson, a punter in the NFL for 10 years who won a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens after the 2000 season, likened the organization’s new venture to “re-writing the playbook.”

That is, providing a road map that helps handle post-career challenges.

“We have a world-class health system to help guide us,” Richardson said. “Our goal is to improve the health and wellness of NFL Alumni members. This includes the guys who have played 20 years or more, as well as those who may have only played one game. Our members range from those in their 20s to former players in their 90s. Sanford is well-positioned to address our members whatever stage they are in.”

Ultimately, the goal is enhancing quality of life. Obviously, health issues connected with retired NFL players have made news over the last decade. Former pros deal with football-related medical challenges that can last lifetimes and involve entire families.

The initial bond between Sanford and the NFLAA was originally established to address those circumstances head-on.

Medical access beyond Hall of Famers

“This is about us being a solution-based entity that can provide real solutions to our members, including those who may not be able to afford them otherwise,” said Davis, a former wide receiver who played on Super Bowl champion teams with Dallas and Baltimore.

“What makes this an even more ideal situation is the breadth of services. Our brand and being associated with our brand is valuable, but you might go here for this and over there for that. With Sanford, we’re going to have a concise, consistent relationship where you can access a range of benefits and expect that same quality for everything every single time.”

An affiliation with Sanford will include access to progressive medical advice. It includes a mutual interest in advances that could further the cause.

“We couldn’t ask for anything better,” Davis said. “It’s apropos given the present circumstances in the world to find a relationship with health care. You’re pushing the envelope to find bigger, better and safer ways of holistically helping people rebuild themselves mentally and physically.”

Because we most often associate the NFL with its biggest names and its largest salaries, the prevailing belief is that most former pros left the game set financially for life. The reality falls well short of that, however.

“We have the guys with the gold jackets, the Hall of Famers everybody knows, but we also represent the other 99%,” said Oates, who became an attorney after leaving the NFL.

Collectively, Oates said, they’re all going to be better served via the partnership with Sanford.

“There’s an energy here that exceeded my expectations,” he said. “There’s a vision that coincides with what we want to do.”

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Posted In Innovations, Orthopedics, Research, Sports Medicine

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