Two separate phone conversations by a couple of unlikely roommates last year was all it took to come up with a life-saving idea.
When Nate Boyer's brief tenure with the Seattle Seahawks ended prior to the 2015 season, he ended up moving in with Jay Glazer, the FOX Sports NFL insider who was also a close friend of Boyer's having helped train the former Army Green Beret-turned-NFL-hopeful at Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center. After the Seahawks cut Boyer in training camp, the 34-year-old was considering another tour of duty, which is why Glazer convinced his friend to move in with him.
And while those two were living together, Boyer was on the phone helping a former Special Forces teammate who was struggling to adjust to civilian life, while Glazer was having a similar conversation with the wife of a former NFL player whose husband was struggling to adjust to life after football.
It didn't take long for Glazer and Boyer to realize that there were similarities both in the personalities of former athletes and former service men and women, and also in the struggles they faced adjusting to life following their careers.
"We were literally having the same exact conversation," Glazer said in a phone interview from Hawaii, where FOX NFL Sunday was filmed last weekend in honor of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Nate was telling his friend, 'What you've used to excel as a Special Ops soldier, you can use to excel in the transition.' It was the same thing I was telling my friend's wife—playing in the NFL isn't who he is, what got him to the NFL is who he is.
"It was the same conversation, two walks of life, and we said, 'Shoot, let's put this together.'"
And that's how MVP, or Merging Vets & Players, was born one year ago.
"What it is basically, Jay Glazer and I have found that ex-athletes and veterans leaving military often have the same sort of struggles moving forward, finding purpose again in their lives when the uniform comes off," Boyer said while visiting a Seahawks practice last month. "There are 22 veterans a day who lose the battle with suicide, as well as so many athletes coming off the field—maybe they're NFL guys who don't have that same sort of locker room support structure and challenge and mission. It's the same for veterans. Granted, what they're sacrificing are very different things, but the amount of sacrifice it takes to get to that level and be great is the same."
The idea is simple, yet it has a profound impact—bring together veterans and former athletes for workouts at Glazer's Los Angeles gym, as well as for what Glazer describes as "empowerment retreats" at Boulder Crest Retreat in Virginia, and create the type of team setting that will allow them to thrive in the next chapters of their lives.
"Basically what we do right now is every week we have a large number of veterans who come into Glazer's gym in Los Angeles, Unbreakable Performance Center," said Boyer, who raised the 12 Flag at the Seahawks' Salute to Service game last month. "… Once a week we have a bunch of veterans come in and work out—and these are all combat vets, many of them have been homeless or are currently homeless, and are just really struggling in finding passion again—what are they going to do next, 'Am I ever going to do something that was as important as what I did before when I served?' It's a common questions, it's a feeling of, whether it's survivor's guilt, or just not being part of a team anymore with a mission that really matters, and we're helping them try to find that again. These athletes come in and we work out together. It's hard, we push each other. It's meant to be difficult. The whole point is to push ourselves to our breaking points. Then once we complete the workout, we all sit together on the wrestling mats and we just have like a fireside chat where we talk about what everybody's going through—good, bad and indifferent. And we're coaching each other up. It started out where Jay and I were sitting up there, not telling anybody how to live their lives, but given them ideas and our thoughts on what worked for, because everybody's got those internal struggles, but now it's to the point where we don't even have to talk anymore. Guys who have been through the program for a long time are coaching up each other, talking about how far they've come."
Added Glazer: "It's about changing the way these guys view themselves that yeah, different is good. Whatever you used to play in the NFL, whatever you used in combat, that's what you've got to use in the transition… The number one thing is you're not alone. You're not. They all think they're alone. We've got a quarter million troops just in L.A. You're not alone, none of them are. Two, don't look at it like you're different in a bad way, look at it like, 'Yeah, I'm different, that's what causes success." Being different is what leads to success. We're teaching them that. Three, we're giving them a team again, and we're giving them a team where they're beholden to each other. If you put them on this team of like-minded individuals, it will save lives.
And that's not hyperbole from Glazer. In the past month alone, athletes and vets working together have prevented five of their own from committing suicide, Glazer said. Two former players were talked out of falling off the wagon with drug use, while a third did relapse, only to be tracked down and put into a detox program by a group that included former WSU standout and No. 2 overall pick Ryan Leaf, who himself had a long and well-documented struggles with drug use, former Pro Bowler Kassim Osgood and former combat veterans.
"They figured out a way to get him detoxed, they're there with him every day," Glazer said. "They have this team again, they're beholden to each other… They went to go get him because they were concerned, they had planned to meet and he didn't show up. They saved his life."
MVP has also helped get multiple homeless vets jobs and into housing, and brought in CEOs of companies to help with résumé and job interview training.
Boyer is particularly valuable to MVP because he provides a unique perspective when players and vets get together. While still serving in the Army, Boyer walked onto the football team at Texas and won the long-snapping job, then signed with the Seahawks as a free agent and took part in training camp and one preseason game.
"The fact that you have a guy like Nate Boyer, who has been on both sides, he gets the psyche of both," Galzer said. "… When he got cut, he struggled. He was upset, he had a hard time with it. And he has a hard time being out of the military. We're trying to rebuild these guys from the inside out."
Boyer doesn't pretend to have all the answers for veterans or former athletes, but he is able to share his experiences from being in both worlds.
"I know what has worked for me because I have had those moments of, 'Wow, I can't believe this chapter is ending. I have no idea what the next chapter is going to be,'" Boyer said. "But at the same time, I discovered that the quicker I moved on from that and started to try other things and put myself out there and be OK with the fact that I may fail with whatever the next challenge in life is, but at least I'm going after it, it's the pursuit that keeps me happy. It's the journey, not the destination.
For both Glazer and Boyer, the end goal is to help as many veterans and former players by empowering them to help each other and themselves while going through difficult life transitions.
"You can't just work somebody, work somebody, work somebody, then leave them by the side of the road when they're no longer of use to you," Boyer said. "It doesn't work like that, it's just not fair. So setting them up for successful transitions is absolutely key. The tough part about it is you don't know when it ends, especially with football, but the military too… Both of them are time consuming and require a lot of sacrifice, but when that ends, sometimes it's very sudden. There's got to be a program in place like this that guys can go to and understand that they have a community that has been through the same thing, they'll have mentors and people that have been right where they are. We want to ask you, 'What do you want to do next?' Not tell you, 'You should do this now.' Telling people how to live their lives doesn't fix anything. It's understanding and listening and trying to help them find the goal that makes the most sense for them. Sometimes there are going to be crazy ideas and crazy dreams out there, but that's all I've done, so there's nothing wrong with that."
Former Seahawks long snapper and Green Beret, Nate Boyer raised the 12 Flag before kickoff during Week 9 vs the Bills at CenturyLink Field.