The health of former NFL players has only become a real front-burner issue in recent years, but it’s been on the mind of Dr. Archie Roberts for much longer than that.
Roberts, a former NFL quarterback who went on to become a heart surgeon, helped found the Living Heart Foundation in 2001 after retiring from his practice.
“I wasn’t very good at golf,” Roberts said. “I thought that I could perhaps do something to help the plight of the health related to former NFL players. There wasn’t much going on at that time to help retired players after they left the NFL.”
More than a decade later, the project has helped test and screen almost 4,000 retired players for a variety of potential cardiovascular and cognitive ailments.
And Saturday, a new care model developed by the foundation in conjunction with the NFL Players Association will debut at the University of Minnesota’s Signature Health and Wellness. More than 20 former players, many of them retired Vikings, will undergo comprehensive physical exams, electrocardiograms and lab tests.
Dr. William Conroy, the medical director for the U of M’s Signature Health and Wellness, said much of the testing will focus on problems related to weight concerns such as diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea as well as orthopedic and cognitive issues.
“I think for a variety of reasons, these are more common problems among NFL players than the general public,” Conroy said. “Those are all things that are common, but what we’re happy to report is that there are things we can do to help them. There are some great things we can do to help them.”
Former Vikings great Carl Eller is among those slated to go through the tests. Eller, 74, said he has stayed mostly on top of his health by remaining active since his retirement following the 1979 season. But Eller said he has also seen his peers, including former teammates, struggle to do the same.
As a result, Eller — the current president of the NFL Retired Players Association — has developed programs designed to help players transition from playing to retirement. Physical health is a key component of that, so when he was asked to be a part of this new program, he was eager.
“The lifestyle changes so much when you retire, and how much you use your body changes drastically. I think that plays a large role in your quality of life,” Eller said. “If you’re not doing well physically, it affects you emotionally, socially, all of those things.”
To that end, former players will have access to a panel discussion Saturday on nutrition, concussions and orthopedic health after their tests are finished.
“We’ll try to touch on all the major things they’re at risk for,” Conroy said. “This is by no means a final stop for them. But they should get some valuable information they can use to improve their health.”