January 29, 2013

Glory Road: Merril Hoge

Shelby Holliday talks to this NFL star about the importance of staying safe on the playing field.

Shelby: If you are a football fan, you may recognize this guy. ESPN Analyst and former NFL Player Merril Hoge.

What is your favorite part about being on TV?

Merril Hoge: What I love most about it is that I love the game of football. So, this gives me the freedom but allows me to still live in the passion of the game of football.

Shelby: That passion has inspired Merril his whole life.

Merril: Well, my dream was to play in the National Football League since I could remember. I was eight years old. And I remember thinking one day, I was like, ‘you know, I’m going to find a way. Whatever work is required, I’m willing to do it. Whatever odds I’m up against, I’m going to beat them.’

Shelby: And he did. After setting dozens of football records at Idaho State, Merril was drafted into the NFL. As a Pittsburgh Steeler, Merril was named back-to-back Steelers Iron Man of the Year and was even selected for the All-Madden team in 1989. Then after seven years with the Steelers, Merril signed with the Chicago Bears. But his eighth season only lasted five games.

What happened that year?

Merril: Well, the first thing that happened on a Monday night game. I was concussed on a Monday night game. It was extremely severe. I mean, I had amnesia for some 24-48 hours. After that happened to me, I was playing five days later. Several weeks later, I took another blow that was very similar to the one that I sustained on the Monday night game, and it ended my career. It nearly took my life because when I went into the training room, I went into cardiac arrest.

Shelby: That was the last time Merril would play the game of football. His head injuries led to a number of health problems, including memory loss.

Merril: I had to learn how to read again. I had to start all over, went through depression. And it took about a two-year window before I really cleared out of that fog. But then I go all the way back to what I learned in this great game. You know, how to want it more than anybody else. How that sometimes it requires you to be uncommon in your approach to things.

Shelby: After recovering from his injuries, Merril was hired as an on-air analyst for ESPN. But it wasn’t the last time his ‘find a way’ motto would come into play. A few years later, Merril’s tough attitude helped him beat cancer.

And you have been cancer-free for almost ten years?

Merril: I know. Can you believe that?

Shelby: These days, Merril is focused on finding a way to prevent injuries like the one that ended his career.

With more than 38 million boys and girls participating in organized youth sports in the U.S., concussions are one of the most commonly reported injuries.

Merril: Listen, you’re not going to eliminate head trauma. Soccer, hockey, football, lacrosse, in the backyard – it’s going to happen. What would be the best thing? For all of us to understand what is the proper treatment, signs and symptoms and care for that.

Shelby: That is why Merril works with USA Football to teach young athletes the importance of proper equipment, techniques and concussion treatment at tour stops across the country. But above all, Merril’s message to young athletes is to keep on playing because sports are about much more than what happens on the field.

Merril: The game of football is a great game, but there is more to that game than just X’s and O’s. There are life lessons that can be taught and learned each and every time you walk on a football field.

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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