Paul Oliver is the former NFL football player, who worked for the San Diego Chargers for five years. Paul Oliver played for the Chargers from 2007-11, and then for the New Orleans Saints, but but was reportedly released after being injured during training camp. Prior to his NFL career, Oliver was a star player for the University of Georgia, and for Harrison High School.
Then, for some reason, Paul Oliver shot himself in front of his wife and kids last Thursday. Speculation immediately went to how head injuries can impact the psyche of an NFL player. But I have a different take on what’s going on.
There have been 12 suicides in NFL history, but of them, four have happened within the last eight months. There’s clearly something different about the game now, versus the past.
What’s different is media, and in two ways. First, there’s more of it, including social media, so the drive to be seen on ESPN is now matched by the desire to be a Twitter Trend, and many times, the former leads to the latter.
Then, there’s the fact that the same hypermedia communicates that suicide is a way out, just by the rampant increase in reports of people taking their own lives.
Suicide rates vary with the economy. The better the economy performs, the lower the rate has been compared with the previous year, and the converse is true when economic performance is poorer than the previous year. But what’s come to more rapidly communicate these acts is the increase in all types of media.
There are also more guns and they’re easily available. Nothing has been done to alter this fact to date, even with the best efforts of politicians and President Obama.
Finally, the athletes generally miss the limelight and the NFL lacks a transition system to help players who retire become “civilian” and learn to live a life away from the bright-lights and glamour they’ve seen. With the emergence of Hyper Media, this hot light of celebrity has become brighter, still, and now we have “micro-celebrities” who are created via YouTube and other online platforms.
The age of the celebrity now extends to the athlete.
What’s needed from the NFL’s perspective is, first, an effort to get guns out of the hands of players, and second, a transition program that includes counseling, a handbook on investing and business, an NFL Retired Players Network complete with a hotline where former players can call for help and guidance, and also use of the NFL Network as a way to continue to keep the light on as many retired players as possible.