Prompted in part by the January suicide of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski and the recent death of Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High School principal Troy Schueller by an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien is opening up about his own struggles with anxiety and depression, including at least one attempt to take his own life.
“I suffer from a complex stew of mental health conditions,” the 55-year-old Rypien told Spokane, Wash.-based KHQ-TV in an emotional interview that aired Thursday. “Dark places, depression, anxiety, addictions, poor choices, poor decisions, brought about from dozens of concussions, and thousands of sub-concussive injuries from playing this sport.”
Rypien was a star quarterback at Spokane’s Shadle Park High before attending nearby Washington State. He played six seasons with the Redskins, was named MVP of the Washington’s 37-24 win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI in 1992 and retired from the NFL in 2002. Rypien was the lead plaintiff in a 2012 class-action lawsuit seeking compensation and medical care from the league for “repeated traumatic injuries to his head” suffered during his 11-year playing career.
Rypien declined to discuss his “poor choices” and “poor decisions” in detail during his interview with KHQ’s Stephanie Vigil. The Spokesman-Review, which published a separate interview with Rypien this week, reported he has been advised that doing so “could hurt the work of the Rypien Foundation,” which Rypien founded 15 years ago to help families of childhood cancer patients. Rypien and his first wife, Annette, lost their 3-year-old son, Andrew, to brain cancer in 1998.
One of Rypien’s poor decisions was patronizing Spokane spas that were shut down in a 2012 prostitution sting. The Spokesman-Review reports that Rypien’s name didn’t appear among the hundreds of others listed as customers because he paid cash instead of using a credit card.
“Yes, I was part of this,” Rypien said. “Again, I made some absolutely crazy mistakes. Terrible decisions. Poor judgment.”
There was also the time Rypien left a 20-minute audio suicide message for his current wife, Danielle, and then wouldn’t answer his phone. Rypien said he once attempted suicide by washing down 150 pills of Advil with a bottle of wine. (Rypien’s cousin, former NHL player Rick Rypien, committed suicide in 2011 after battling depression for years.)
“If it wasn’t for my wife coming home and finding me on the floor, and shoving hydrogen peroxide down my throat, and charcoal, to throw up all these pills, I wouldn’t be here today,” Rypien told KHQ.
Rypien and his wife both say that a November 2017 domestic violence incident between the couple was triggered by a change in Rypien’s medication. The case was eventually dismissed, and Rypien said he has his medication under control these days, thanks to the health specialists he visits regularly.
“They’ve given me the tools necessary to live my life in a way that helps others and that stays away from the choices and decisions I make,” Rypien told KHQ.
Danielle is afraid her husband has chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease that affects decision-making, judgment and cognition and is traced back to the kind of head trauma experienced by football players. Rypien said he underwent a full neurological scan and the results revealed “not a normal brain.”
Rypien, who plans to donate his brain to scientists studying the long-term effects of concussions when he dies, criticized the slow claims process stemming from the NFL’s settlement agreement of the concussion lawsuit. He said his daughter Angela suffers post-concussion symptoms from her time in the Lingerie Football League, and he feels guilty about it in hindsight. Asked whether his own football career, including a Super Bowl title, was worth the price he’s paying now, Rypien said he’d go back in time and do something else with his life if he had the choice.
“I’d try something else,” he told KHQ. “I’d become a really good swimmer. I’d become a really good tennis player. I’d become something. I’d do something that kept me from the hits, the concussive and sub-concussive hits that I took.”
Rypien’s larger message this week was encouraging others to talk openly about mental health.
“Let’s address this now,” Rypien said. “Let me share my story so others can share theirs. Let’s get rid of this silence that happens when you’re caught up in this cycle and you don’t know how to find the help I’ve been afforded. There are ways to get help. There’s great work going on in our community. But we need to team up and do more.”
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