Dwight Hollier had his post-NFL career all figured out.
He was the poster child for football players successfully transitioning out of the league and into the real world. Hollier spent nine years playing linebacker in the NFL from 1992-2000 — eight years with the Dolphins and one with the Colts.
In his second-to-last season, Hollier began pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling, leaving Dolphins practices 15 minutes early in order to get to class on time, with the blessing of then-coach Jimmy Johnson. After retiring, Hollier earned his degree and went into practice right away, working with adjudicated youth, child adolescent therapy, and foster care programs.
On the outside, Hollier seemed to have his life in order and everything figured out. On the inside, Hollier was a mess.
He had spent most of the first 31 years of his life as a football player, and transitioning away from the sport, from the camaraderie of the locker room and the unique bond players develop with their teammates and coaches, left him in a deep state of depression.
“I went through a significant depression and challenges during my transition while also still working as a counselor, and so I ultimately got some counseling myself,” Hollier, now 48, said by telephone this past week. “I was able to work through those challenges, and it prompted me to say, ‘I need to do this for other guys who may face similar challenges.’
“And I said that if I can prepare the way that I prepared and struggle the way I did, and I played nine years and left with a master’s degree, what happens to the guy who only plays two years who thought he was going to play 10 and doesn’t have his undergrad degree?”
That thought process led Hollier out of private practice and to the NFL’s main headquarters in New York, where he has worked as the league’s vice president of wellness and clinical services for the last four years.
While May and June are typically slow months on the NFL calendar, they’re busy for Hollier and the nine members of his department. They have been traveling to all 32 teams this spring speaking with players — particularly rookies — about the mental health and wellness services available to them through the NFL, such as the NFL Life Line, a free and confidential 24/7 hotline.
When he first came to the league office, Hollier was responsible for developing the health and wellness portion of the NFL’s rookie symposium, where all 250-plus drafted rookies would attend a multiday seminar to teach them about life as a professional football player.
Hollier is hard to miss roaming the halls of the NFL’s Park Avenue offices — he’s the burly former linebacker now wearing pink bowties. And he’s uniquely qualified for this position helping today’s athletes. Not many former NFL players become mental health counselors, and not many mental health counselors played nine years in the NFL.
“I think the thing that really sticks out for me is my childhood and the way that I was raised,” Hollier said. “We didn’t have a lot growing up, but no matter what we had we always had our door open for others. And those lessons that my parents taught us about helping others and giving back is part of the reason that psychology really spoke to me.”
Hollier also has been a crucial part of the NFL’s newfound emphasis on social responsibility in the wake of the Ray Rice situation in 2014. Much of Hollier’s early professional training and experience came at a family violence center, and for the last three years Hollier has made presentations to players, coaches, and NFL employees about domestic violence and sexual assault awareness.
“In my counseling work throughout my 12 years in the field, I worked a lot with abused populations, so it prepared me for that opportunity to continue to serve,” Hollier said. “Part of my specific role is working with partners that help provide our mental health resources and making sure we have the right resources in place, and hoping to connect individuals to those resources, to make sure we 1) have the right resources and 2) that our players and our broader NFL family understand what those resources are and can connect with them.”
Last year the NFL scrapped the rookie symposium to instead allow all 32 teams to provide their own orientation programs to rookies that is tailored to each team and city. Now in addition to giving his own presentations to players, Hollier also works directly with the player engagement directors of all 32 teams to develop mental health education and awareness programs.
“When I was playing, it was a different era,” Hollier said. “We have many more resources now than we had in the past, and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s an opportunity for guys to make sure that they have their needs met. Part of the role that I have is trying to break down the stigma around reaching out.”
Teams getting back to work
The NFL offseason is reaching its high point, with teams in the middle of the four-week OTA program that consists of full-team practices and 11-on-11 drills (but no contact or pads) and teams holding mandatory three-day minicamps this week or next.
A few updates from around the league:
■ Several high-profile players are skipping voluntary OTAs, either due to displeasure with their contracts or simply wanting to work out on their own: Odell Beckham, Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Olivier Vernon, Eric Berry, Jordan Reed, and many others. Skipping OTAs is not a big deal — they’re mostly important for young players trying to learn their way in the NFL — and the players can’t be punished or fined for missing out.
But minicamp and training camp are a different story. In 2017, teams can fine players a total of $80,405 — $13,400 for missing the first day, $26,800 for missing a second day, and $40,205 for a third day. And teams can fine players $40,000 for each day of training camp missed, plus one week’s regular-season salary for every preseason game missed.
■ The best story of OTAs: Texans offensive tackle David Quessenberry practicing with his teammates for the first time since 2013, when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T-lymphoblastic lymphoma. Quessenberry, a sixth-round pick in 2013 out of San Jose State, is now cancer-free after undergoing intensive chemotherapy.
“It’s just an incredible story,” Texans quarterback Tom Savage told the Houston Chronicle. “The things that he went through and overcame, it really puts a lot of things in perspective out here for us. When he wasn’t out here we were all out here playing for him, because we know he would give anything to be out here with us. I’m super happy that he’s out here and competing with us.”
■ The second-best story of OTAs: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hitting the practice field for the first time since suffering a horrific knee dislocation last August. Bridgewater hasn’t been cleared to practice, and there is no timetable for his return, but he was throwing with his fellow quarterbacks and taking dropbacks with resistance bands under the watchful eye of team trainers.
“He’s one of the leaders in our locker room, so having him out here is definitely motivation to everybody,” Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
■ Browns coach Hue Jackson praised new quarterback Brock Osweiler, saying he has “been outstanding in our building” and performing well during practices.
“He looks much better right now,” Jackson said. “He’s more compact. He’s throwing the ball with a lot more velocity. He’s doing a lot of good things. He needs to keep going, just like all our quarterbacks do.”
Of course, a skeptic reads those comments and can’t help but think that Jackson is trying to pump up Osweiler’s trade value. The Browns acquired him from the Texans in March not to solve their quarterback issue, but to gain extra draft picks and spend their surplus of cap space. Reports at the time stated that the Browns may be willing to eat some of the $16 million owed Osweiler this year just to acquire more draft picks for him, yet three months later he remains on the roster, possibly because they haven’t found the right trade offer.
Osweiler also had a bit of an injury scare last week after getting tangled up with his teammates in a drill. If the Browns want to trade Osweiler, and with three other quarterbacks on the roster (DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan), they should keep Osweiler in bubble wrap until they can find a trade partner.
Floyd appears in a good place
Receiver Michael Floyd is moving on with his life a little quicker than expected following his arrest for driving under the influence in Scottsdale, Ariz., late last year. The former Patriot signed a one-year deal with the Vikings May 10 and had the rest of his 96-day house arrest transferred to Minnesota, allowing him to participate in Vikings OTAs.
Not only does Floyd now get to play in the city where he was born and raised, he also has been reunited with former Notre Dame teammates Kyle Rudolph and Harrison Smith. Floyd is living with Rudolph and his wife and baby, getting his life back together but staying away from diaper duty.
“I think overall, everything I’ve been through is an eye-opener,” said Floyd, who was released by the Cardinals following his arrest and ordered by a judge to serve 24 days in jail and 96 days of house arrest. “The stuff that you go through, positive and negative, grows you as a person. I couldn’t be in a better position right now, especially with being at home with friends and family and having teammates on this team that I can lean on for anything.”
But Floyd will still have to earn his place in Minneapolis. His contract has no guaranteed money, meaning he won’t earn his $1.16 million base salary unless he makes the Week 1 roster. He then will earn $15,250 for every game he is active (for a maximum of $250,000), but a potential two-game suspension for his DUI should prevent him from collecting the full amount.
And Floyd has a chance to earn as much as $4.6 million in incentives based on catches, yards, and touchdowns. He can reach the lowest incentive of $1.5 million with 40 catches, 500 yards or six touchdowns, and the top incentive of $4.6 million for 70 catches, 1,000 yards or 12 touchdowns.
Kaepernick a polarizing figure
Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment is coming to a fever pitch and once again serving as a dividing point across the country.
For many Americans, Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the national anthem was an unforgivable sin. As Giants owner John Mara recently told The MMQB, “All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue. ‘If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.’ It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, moreso than any other issue I’ve run into.”
On Friday, Kaepernick countered with his own letter arsenal, posting on Instagram a photo of three boxes worth of letters and photos of support. “My parents sent me these photos yesterday and continue to receive dollies full of mail in support! I couldn’t do this without the people, I love you!”
While there is little doubt that Kaepernick’s political stance has played a role in his inability to land a job or even serious interest (the only team to even talk to him or his agent so far is the Seahawks), Kaepernick’s silence about his career intentions hasn’t helped, either.
Is he willing to accept a backup role? Is he willing to play for a backup’s salary? Is he healthy, strong, and focused on football? Will he continue to take a knee this fall? We have heard plenty from people around Kaepernick, but not from the man himself.
A little transparency would go a long way if he really wants to land a job.
Alberto Riveron has had a busy few weeks since being named the league’s new senior vice president of officiating on May 14. Riveron and members of the officiating department have been visiting all 32 NFL camps this spring, teaching coaching staffs the league’s new rules and instant replay process, in which Riveron will have final say over replay decisions from NFL headquarters in New York. Riveron took over for Dean Blandino, who stepped down for a TV role in April but didn’t clean out his office until last week . . . Patriots center David Andrews, who recently signed a new four-year contract, has $700,000 in incentives in each of the final three years of his deal, 2018-20. He can make $250,000 for playing in 65 percent of snaps each season and another $450,000 for 85 percent of snaps. Andrews led the Patriots in 2016, playing in 1,359 of 1,363 offensive snaps . . . Michigan State receiver Keith Mumphery was accused of sexual misconduct in March 2015, though no charges were filed. The Texans drafted him in the fifth round that year, anyway. In 2016, Mumphery was expelled from a graduate program and banned from the campus for two-plus years, per the Detroit Free Press, “for violating the university’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy.” But the Texans only now decide to release Mumphery once the incident became public? Seems like another case of a team not doing enough diligence . . . Ten-year NFL safety James Ihedigbo has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating one of the NFL’s drug policies. Ihedigbo, who spent most of last season with the Bills, went to Amherst Regional High, UMass, and played for the Patriots in 2011 . . . We got a kick out of Michael Vick saying last week that he would love to coach in the NFL. While there’s no doubt that Vick is a changed and more mature man now and has experienced significant ups and downs, it’s still funny to hear that from Vick, whose playing career epitomized wasted talent. Vick readily admits that he never listened to coaches or watched film when he was a superstar with the Falcons, and his cockiness got in the way of realizing his full potential. Whether it’s through coaching or mentoring, hopefully Vick can get through to younger quarterbacks not to make the same mistakes.