Willis McGahee struggled to adapt following his NFL career, and it led to suicidal thoughts crossing the former Pro Bowl running back’s mind “a couple of times,” he told The Athletic.
McGahee, who was one of 10 retired NFL players named in a class-action lawsuit filed against the league in February over its disability benefits and “wrongful” denials, told the outlet that, at 42 years old and with 10 children, he has since attended therapy and improved his mental health, but after he suffered another concussion that ended his career in 2013, McGahee had difficulties adapting.
“When it’s gone, you really have nothing to fall back on,” McGahee said in his interview. “It’s just a lot coming at you, man, and it gets mentally tough.”
McGahee was mentioned in the class-action lawsuit alongside Jason Alford, Michael McKenzie, Jamize Olawale, Alex Parsons, Daniel Loper, ex-Jet Eric Smith, Joey Thomas, Charles Sims and Lance Zeno, according to NPR.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s Disability Board were named as the defendants, according to the Associated Press, and while it only specifically mentioned the 10 players, lawyer Chris Seeger said that “they’re a small fraction of the players who have been wronged by the NFL’s disability plan.”
In a previous interview with the Baltimore Sun, McGahee — who sustained over 40 injures in his football career, according to the outlet — criticized the NFL for not caring about its players despite messages that the league promotes, calling it a “sham process.”
“Just because we look good on the outside don’t mean we’re good on the inside,” McGahee told the Baltimore Sun.
McGahee once had a doctor describe him as someone having “body of a carpenter,” according to The Athletic.
He was a first-round pick in 2003, but McGahee missed his entire rookie season with the Bills due to an injury.
That became a common theme throughout his career, even as he rushed for 8,474 yards, compiled 65 touchdowns and made two Pro Bowls before retiring as a 32-year-old.
He eventually received Line of Disability benefits but his application for Total & Permanent Disability benefits continues to be denied, and those reflect two of the three available benefits under the league’s disability plan, according to The Athletic.
“It sucks,” McGahee told The Athletic about his time following the injuries and his NFL career. “It hasn’t gotten better. Nothing has gotten better. Everything, as time goes along, gets worse. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m just trying to figure it out. It’s very emotionally stressful. It takes a toll on the mind and the body. Because every day you’re trying to figure out, ‘What’s next? How am I gonna get over this hump?’”
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.