One of the many things you learn when you cover professional athletes for a living is this: they are typically really, really good at deception and hiding the truth.
Take former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer, for example.
In July of 1999, I wrote that the San Diego Chargers signed Kramer to join Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Leaf in the battle for the starting quarterback gig. That same day, a woman identifying herself as Kramer’s grandmother called the newspaper.
She was so excited that her grandson had signed with the Chargers and was looking forward to reading many stories about him.
About four months later, I really would have liked to call up the grandmother with this message: Your grandson, Erik, is a major jerk.
And using the work jerk would’ve been a nicer term than the one that truly fit.
Kramer is on my mind this Sunday night because he spoke publicly about his failed suicide attempt of last August in a well-done story by the Detroit Free Press. If you have 30 minutes of free time, it is a terrific read — Ex-Lions QB Kramer gets help after suicide attempt
If you just have time for a quick read, here is a superb summary put together by someone you know — Former NFL QB Kramer talks about suicide attempt
Basically, Kramer has been dealing with depression for about 25 years, beginning early in his NFL career. Things reached a crisis level last summer after family deaths in 2011 (a son), 2012 (his mom) and 2015 (dad was ill at time of Kramer’s suicide attempt and later died) amid a divorce and other personal problems.
Kramer decided to take his life but the gunshot didn’t kill him. The bullet went through his chin and tongue, up his sinus cavities and out the top of his head. He was in a medically induced coma for six weeks but survived and finally returned home last month.
Now 51, Kramer joked to the Free Press that he’s only alive because he’s “a bad shot.”
What the Free Press story also does is make me think about the Kramer of 17 years ago.
Seriously, only Leaf was a bigger jerk than Kramer on the 1999 Chargers, but Kramer somehow threw interceptions at a even greater pace than Leaf.
He played in six games (four starts) with the Chargers and threw 10 interceptions against two touchdowns. He was trying to play through significant neck pain but the injury forced him to retire during the season.
When you factor in what Kramer revealed in his detail of the suicide attempt, you have to wonder if his depression issues were a major factor in 1999. He said he had major depression troubles in the offseason following his career-best season of 1995 when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns for the Chicago Bears.
If depression was flaring up at a high point of his career, it surely sounds plausible that Kramer was dealing with the illness when he was on the downside of his career and seeing the end was near.
Heavy depression certainly would affect his demeanor and the way he treated people.
Heck, most NFL players dislike reporters to begin with so imagine feeling lousy every single day and then having some pesky reporter — hey, that’s me — grilling you about the three interceptions you threw in a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers one week after throwing four second-half interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks.
Kramer lost his job the following week and the media seldom saw him again. Nobody that I know of shed any tears.
But remember what I said about how athletes are really, really good at hiding the truth?
I’m willing to bet Kramer was dealing with heavy depression at the time.
He probably wasn’t nearly as bad a guy as he seemed. Just a troubled individual dealing with something none of us knew.
We all know now after the events of last summer and Kramer’s decision to discuss the situation with the Free Press.
And now he’s trying to make the best of things after dealing with a bunch of darkness and setbacks in his life.
This qualifies as a real-life audible — and that rates as a bit more important than the on-field ones.