THE VAULT

GUPAT GRANT STORIES

Angel Over My Shoulder

Jon Witman

NFL and union-backed programs providing lifelines to ex-players in distress

WASHINGTON — Jon Witman put the shotgun to his head. Again. 

 

A fullback with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1996 to 2001, Witman was in financial distress, severely depressed and hooked on painkillers a year ago. He was going to pull the trigger this time, until the youngest of his four sons came in the room. Witman couldn’t go through with it. “I denied it, but I knew I had a problem,” Witman recalled recently in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports. “When you get done playing and not getting that edge back and not having that feeling — I don’t know, man. It was ugly.”

Ever wonder where the money goes when the NFL fines players for misconduct? Half is allocated to the Gene Upshaw Players Assistance Trust, one of many resources funded by the league and its players union to help former players in need such as Witman, whose wife, Michelle, made the call they both credit with saving his life soon after the near-suicide attempt. Continue Reading

 

USA TODAY Sports, Tom Pelissero

But Witman is sober, and the thoughts of suicide passed. He’s in regular contact with Professional Athletes Foundation manager Caryl Banks, whom he calls the angel over his shoulder. Michelle Witman said her message to others in the same spot is: “Just not to be afraid to ask for help.”

- USA TODAY Sports

Any player who spent even a day on an NFL practice squad is eligible for resources and support from the Professional Athletes Foundation, which has referred about 20 other players for in-patient substance and alcohol abuse treatment and at least 130 for out-patient services and counseling in areas such as depression since January 2015, [Tyrone] Allen said.

 

- USA TODAY Sports