UAB Sports and Exercise Medicine, UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine, the Professional Athletes Foundation of the NFL Players Association and the Living Heart Foundation partnered together to provide free heart screenings, neurological screenings, orthopedic health screenings and exercise, nutrition and mental health screenings for former players.
Screenwriter: Catherine Mozzone
Media Contact: Anna Jones
Former NFL player Antonio Langham sat in an exam room at UAB Hospital-Highlands awaiting a hearing test. As president of the Birmingham chapter of the NFL Players Association, he says many players often avoid putting themselves in that position.
“The last place we want to go is to the doctor, and as big football players we think we’re invincible anyway,” said Langham, an Alabama native and former University of Alabama football player.
More than three dozen retired NFL players and their spouses showed up at the University of Alabama at Birmingham last month for various health tests and exams. The event, held at the UAB Family and Community Medicine Clinic, was the result of a partnership between UAB Sports and Exercise Medicine, the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine, the Professional Athletes Foundation of the NFL Players Association and the Living Heart Foundation.
Arthur J. Roberts, MD, retired cardiac surgeon and former NFL quarterback, founded LHF in 2001 to fight sudden cardiac death and provide early intervention for heart disease through free on-site screenings. Roberts and his team are taking the screenings to cities across the United States.
As at many LHF events, UAB attendees had cardiac exams, neurological exams and orthopedic exams. UAB also included screenings related to exercise, nutrition and mental health.
“These individuals are at high risk for brain, bone, and heart health problems related to their previous sports engagement and historical lifestyle,” said Irfan Asif, MD, chair of the department of family medicine and sports medicine. of Medicine and Associate Dean of Primary Care and Rural Health at UAB. “Through this screening, we have achieved the first step in giving these individuals the tools and resources they need to take care of themselves after their playing careers end.”
Before he knew the event was coming to Birmingham, Langham says he was willing to go out of state to get the proper screenings.
“I didn’t know when they were going to arrive in Birmingham, so I was getting ready to go to Jackson, Mississippi, to get it done,” Langham said. “Hearing, EKG, blood pressure, everything you could possibly need. It’s good … it’s necessary. A lot of guys need it.”
Langham knows the importance of staying in touch with her primary care physicians. Although Langham says he prioritizes his health, he expresses concern for his former teammates.
“We’re thinking, ‘We played football, nothing can happen to us,’ you know?” Langham said. “We went through all the years of butting heads and knocking each other down. We are fine; but when you finish things change. Now we’re getting to the point where we’re getting older and we’re starting to lose guys. All of a sudden one day you’re talking to them and the next day they’re gone.”
Langham is not alone in pondering the certainty of mortality. Former Auburn football player and retired NFL player Tommy Agee also understands the importance of these screenings.
“I have three children and four grandchildren,” Agee said. “I should be here a lot longer. I have other kids who are supposed to have kids, so I know I have to be around. You want to see your grandchildren grow up; you want to see your children continue to grow.
Agee’s family is what motivates him to visit his doctor regularly and seek other opportunities to get information about his health, such as the Living Heart Foundation event.
“I’m sure a lot of guys get a lot out of it like I do,” Agee said. “Basically, once you try to make sure your health is going well, it gives you a good, clear mind. It helps sanity knowing you have a healthy body, healthy mind.
While many retired players don’t need freebies, some do. After retiring from the NFL, a number of former players were without health insurance.
“Opportunities like this allow us to accelerate our growth as a sports and exercise program while providing much-needed services to our community,” Asif said. “This was a collaborative effort between departments and really highlights the expertise that is unique to UAB.”
Asif hopes these screenings for NFL players will show how important it is for everyone to see their doctor to establish a baseline for their health. The health baseline provides a comprehensive assessment of both physical and mental health. By establishing a baseline, patients can begin the process of preventing disease and taking steps to achieve their health goals.
“It’s a good reminder that everyone, not just footballers, should pay attention to their health, especially as they age,” Asif said. “None of us are invincible, and establishing a solid baseline with a medical professional, as these players have done, is a great first step toward managing long-term health.”
To make an appointment with a UAB primary care provider today, visit uabmedicine.org.