Published: January 26, 2014
Former NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders has never experienced combat.
But he feels like he has.
When he tells veterans his story, they listen.
"I may not have went to war, I may not have been shot at," Sanders, a former Tennessee Titans wide receiver, told a room of Fort Carson soldiers.
"But when my transition started, that's when my war started. My finances blew up. My marriage blew up. You're talking about a guy who did some great things, living in a 4,500-square-foot house - depressed, wanting to commit suicide.
"I understand the pressures of transitions."
Sanders was one of four former NFL players who shared stories of rocky career changes with soldiers and family members Jan. 19 at "Real Warriors, Real Battles, Real Strength Game Day."
Sanders was joined by former Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Jason Kaiser, former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Freddie Scott and former Jacksonville Jaguars tight end George Wrighster.
They told tales of battling personal demons and discovering new reasons for living at the annual event, held at Fort Carson and other military installations across the country.
The former pigskin pros encouraged troops to develop a game plan for a post-military career, treasure their family members and reach out if they need help.
"Depression knocked me out, insecurities knocked me out," said Sanders, who was forced into early retirement by a back injury. "But when I reached out and got help - that's when I got back in the game."
Scott, who was forced out of the NFL by an injury suffered during practice, encouraged soldiers to view the transition to civilian life as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
"How many people can say they do what you do?" said Scott, who works as a pastor, public speaker and author. "You are elite. People wish they had the teamwork, the leadership, the communication skills you have. They'd die to have you on their team.
"I wish I had somebody on my team that I knew, 'No matter what, you've got my back,'" he said, pointing at Spc. Benjamin Miranda, who was seated in the front row. "Because when you commit, you commit."
Much of what the players said resonated with Miranda, a wounded warrior who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and herniated discs.
He identified with Sanders when he spoke about surviving a divorce, and with Scott when he spoke about wrestling with post-injury insecurities.
His wife, Heather, said the event allowed her husband to "loosen up" and gave her an opportunity to see "the man behind the soldier."
"I get confused with how I can help him," she said. "Events like this help."