"Football Players Are Humans Too"
This week, we debuted our weekly podcast series that will be titled something in the realm of "Give 'Em Hell, Logan." We are so fortunate to have Logan Fano join us each week to talk some ball, have a good time, and give us some insight into the life of a BYU football player. We had a great time during this episode and it was a great precursor for what we hope to bring each week with Logan.
During this first episode, we talked about everything from Logan's recruitment to his weird obsession with anime that I will never understand. All along the way, we had a great time and Garrett and I were able to simply hang out with Logan like old friends.
At the end of the show, we set the stage for the future and explained that this lowkey show would be very similar to future shows. Logan, jokingly and perfectly on queue, said, "football players are humans too!"
We laughed about the comment because it seems so obvious and it perfectly described our intent with this weekly show.
His comment, however, stuck with me.
"Football players are humans too."
I'm not a football player and there are very few things about the life of a football player that I can actually relate to.
Football players lift weight. Jeff does not.
Football players play a game under the lights in front of tens of thousands of people in a stadium while millions of others watch of TV. Jeff posts a few TikToks in a tinfoil hat that are seen by 40,000 some-odd people.
Football players are known by name in the homes of fans across the country. Jeff's own neighbors don't know his name.
I can't relate much to football players. And, generally speaking, neither can any of you who are reading this article. But, Logan's comment got me thinking, can football players relate to "regular people?" Maybe not.
But, football players or not, we're humans. We're all humans. Football players are humans. TikTok stars are humans. My neighbors are humans. We're all humans... too.
Football players are often commoditized by fans. Their performance is judged like it is a piece of operating equipment on a machine. If that equipment breaks down or if there is newer, more efficient equipment, people are quick to throw the old equipment to the side and want to replace it with the newer, better thing. It makes sense. Football is about winning. Finding the best players is critical to winning and nobody is wrong in wanting to find the best players to play for their team.
But those players are human too. Sometimes, we forget that.
On September 9, 2017, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski entered a game against Boise State in relief for Luke Falk, who was injured. He led the Cougars to a triple overtime win in thrilling fashion. Fans rushed the field and hoisted Hilinski to their shoulders and carried him off the field. Following that game, Hilinski went on to play in eight games that year, throwing for nearly 1500 yards. He looked poised to be the next Mike Leach product to go crazy with passing success as he finished his career.
Just four months later, on January 16, 2018, Hilinksi fatally shot himself on campus in Pullman.
Hilinksi, it was later discovered, had CTE. According to a report by Sports Illustrated, a brain autopsy determined that Hilinki's CTE caused him to have the brain of a 65-year old.
Hilinksi seemed happy. His life was, seemingly, going great. His parents thought he was happy, in fact, they believed that he was the happiest he had ever been in his whole life the last time they saw him. But, he was silently struggling by himself.
I can't relate to Hilinski the football player, but I can relate to Hilinski the seemingly happy person who was silently struggling. I can't relate to the football player, but I can relate to the human.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Washington State offensive lineman Cole Madison in the fifth round. Madison was officially an NFL player, achieving a lifelong dream that most football players share.
What did he do during his rookie season? He sat out. The whole year.
“I love football,” Madison told reporters, “but at that point it was my health, and my life was on the line. I had to go help myself before my football career. If I didn’t get my chickens in order back then, I don’t think I’d be here right now.”
I have no idea what it feels like to be drafted into the NFL. I don't know what it's like to go to training camp or to consider someone like Aaron Rodgers your co-worker. That seems like such a foreign concept to me.
But I do know what it's like to mourn the loss of a loved one and to feel like you're in such a dark place that nothing else matters.
You see, Madison was best friends with Hilinksi. And following Hilinski's death, even being drafted into the NFL wasn't enough to make Madison forget how much he missed his friend. He had to take care of his own mental health before he could play football. So he did.
I can't relate to football players, but I can relate to human beings.
In February 2020, I had my first panic attack. I was in my office at work and felt a pain in my chest. I thought maybe it was a heart attack, but it wasn't crazy severe, my left arm wasn't numb, and I was able to push through it when I distracted myself with work. I remember standing up from my desk, walking to my door to shut it, and sitting back down on my chair. I closed my eyes, implemented the breathing techniques I had learned in my wife's lamaze classes during her first pregnancy, and pushed through it. I don't know if it was one minute or thirty minutes, but I pushed through it and went about my day.
The pain in my chest lingered, though not super severely, for the next few days. Embarrassed and confused, I didn't really talk much about it, but I did casually bring it up to my wife and co-workers.
My friend at work said, "It sounds like a panic attack." But I didn't know what there was to panic about so I ruled that out.
My wife, after a few days of letting me be concerned for myself, finally said, "Jeff, let's go to the hospital and figure this out."
We went to the emergency room late at night. We told the nurses I was having chest pains and was immediately rushed to the back for EKGs and whatever other tests they took.
Everything was great. In fact, things looked so great that the doctor was a little surprised, based on my overall (lack of) physical stature. "You're fat-fit, Mr. Hansen. Your heart looks great."
The chest pains never went away. Even though I knew my heart looked fine, I couldn't shake this chest pain. I started to spiral. With each day that my chest hurt, fear and a feeling of impending doom continued to creep into my thoughts.
After a couple of weeks, I was so convinced that my heart was going to stop in the middle of the night while I was asleep that my brain convinced me I shouldn't sleep. If I go to sleep, I thought, I wouldn't wake up and it would be my wife and kids who find my lifeless body in bed the next day.
So, I started pounding energy drinks and forcing myself to stay awake. I didn't want my wife to freak out, so I would go to bed with her. When she fell asleep, I would get out of bed and walk around. Sometimes I would walk outside. Sometimes I would go to the backyard. Sometimes into the car. I never really thought about where I was going or what I was doing, all I thought about was needing to stay away.
For seven days, I slept a total of about six hours.
On the seventh night, my wife woke up during one of my middle-of-the-night freak outs. She sensed the urgency. She was perceptive, calming, and there. She helped me get through it, went with me to a doctor the next day to talk mental health, and loved me the entire way.
I was lucky she was there. Who knows what would have happened if she wasn't?
It's been more than two years since that sleepless week, and I still have my own mental health struggles, but it's under control now. And there are people who know and who are aware that help me through it. There are people who relate to me, and they are everywhere.
"Football players are humans too."
As we get ready for another season of football in a few months, may we all remember that football players are also humans. They have struggles. They have challenges. They have pain and loss. They have happiness and fun. They are humans just like you and me.
And so is your neighbor.
And so is your family member.
And so is everyone else that you know.
No matter what our beliefs are, our backgrounds are, our hobbies are, or what anything else about each of us individually is, we all have something in common. We're all humans too.
Logan Fano didn't realize it at the time, but his comment is a powerful lesson for all of us. And it's something that the world desperately needs right now.
It needs more understanding humans, football players or not. We're all fighting the same fight.