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Former Alabama Player; Other NFLers Receive Free Health Screenings at UAB

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At UAB, former players received free cardiac exams, neurological exams, orthopedic health exams, and exercise, nutrition and mental health screenings. (UAB Photography, Katherine Mozzone)

By Katherine Mozzone
UAB News

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 this position.

“The last place we want to go is to a 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 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham last month for a variety of health tests and exams. Held in the UAB Family and Community Medicine Clinic, the event was the result of a partnership between UAB Sports and Exercise MedicineUAB Department of Family and Community Medicine, the Professional Athletes Foundation of the NFL Players’ Association, and Living Heart Foundation.

Arthur J. Roberts, M.D., retired cardiac surgeon and former NFL quarterback, founded LHF in 2001 to fight sudden cardiac death and to provide early intervention for heart conditions through free, on-site screenings. Roberts and his team bring the screenings to cities across the United States.

As at many LHF events, UAB’s attendees had cardiac exams, neurological exams and orthopedic health exams. UAB also incorporated screenings related to exercise, nutrition and mental health.

“These individuals are at high risk for brain, bone and heart health issues related to their prior sporting engagement and historical lifestyle,” said Irfan Asif, M.D., chair of the department, a family medicine and sports medicine physician, and the associate dean for Primary Care and Rural Health at UAB. “Through this screening, we’ve achieved the first step in providing these individuals with the tools and resources needed to care for themselves well after their playing careers are over.”

Prior to knowing the event was coming to Birmingham, Langham says, he was willing to go out of state to get the appropriate screenings.

“I didn’t know when they were coming to Birmingham, so I was getting ready to go to Jackson, Mississippi, to get it done,” Langham said. “Hearing, EKG, blood pressure, anything you may need. This is good … it’s necessary. A lot of guys need this.”

Langham knows how important it is to stay in touch with his primary care doctors. Although Langham says he prioritizes his health, he expresses concerns about his former teammates.

“We think ‘we played football, nothing can happen to us,’ you know?” Langham said. “We went through all the years of banging heads and knocking each other down. We’re fine; but when you’re done, things change. We’re getting to the point now where we’re getting on up in age and we’re starting to lose guys. All of a sudden, one day you’re talking to them, and the next day they’re not here.”

Langham is not the only one reflecting on the certainty of mortality. Former Auburn football player and retired NFL player Tommie Agee also understands the importance of these screenings.

“I have three kids and four grandkids,” Agee said. “I have to be around a lot longer. I have other kids that have to have some kids, so I know I have to be around. You want to see your grandkids grow up; you want to see your kids continue to grow up.”

Agee’s family is what motivates him to see his doctor regularly and to seek other opportunities to receive input on his health, like the Living Heart Foundation event.

“I’m sure that 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, clean mind. It helps the sanity, knowing you have a healthy body, healthy mind.”

While many of the retired players do not need free services, some do. Since retiring from the NFL, a number of former players have been 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 across 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 visit their doctor to establish a baseline for their health. A baseline of health 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.

“This is a good reminder that everyone, not just football players, needs to pay attention to their health, especially as they age,” Asif said. “None of us are invincible, and establishing a solid baseline with a medical provider as these players did is a great first step to managing long-term health.”

To make an appointment with a UAB primary care provider today, visit uabmedicine.org.