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Emory Healthcare helps Atlanta Falcons legend get back to health
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Janet Christenbury

As a four-time NFL (National Football League) All-Pro tight end with a career spanning a decade with the Falcons, Patriots, Titans and Jaguars, Alge Crumpler was a legend on and off the field.

Crumpler on field

Alge Crumpler was a tight end with the Atlanta Falcons from 2001 to 2007, before retiring from the NFL in 2010.

Crumpler, 44, built a reputation as a leader at his position and a leader among his teammates. However, like many elite athletes, he struggled to make the transition from the field to post-professional play life. The dream of NFL glory, the support of teammates and the goal of being a leader in the locker room help provide athletes with the structure to maintain peak physical shape. In particular, the regimented structure of the league is paramount in maintaining their laser-like focus with workouts, nutrition and communication.

Crumpler spent more than 20 years keeping his body in peak condition. He was at the top of his game throughout high school in Greenville, North Carolina, college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the NFL, as part of highly structured training routines, with strong coaching and a support system to optimize his performance.

Life after professional sports

After football there was no routine to follow, no position for which to compete, no teammates for collaborating, no Super Bowl trophy for which to aspire. His body ached, he lost the motivation to exercise and food became his comfort.

Without the discipline of a regiment and a team, Crumpler gained weight fast. Mounting health concerns, exacerbated by his condition, left him struggling, insecure and unhappy. He disconnected from his family, preferring to stay at home, missing family vacations and activities. For an NFL legend beloved by teammates and fans, this was not what was envisioned for his retirement — physically or mentally.

“It felt to me like he was that guy that was drowning,” says Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons. “He didn’t really know how to help himself.”

Facing the truth

Crumpler’s teammate Warrick Dunn has experienced the same pattern with many players of his generation. 

“All players are going to have transitional issues because once you leave the game of football, there’s nothing else you can do in life that gives you the same high,” says Dunn.

Health care team

Crumpler meets with members of his Emory Healthcare team to begin to regain his health.

Former professional players can be prone to experiencing significant weight gain, all while experiencing chronic pain, hypertension, blood sugar irregularities and sleep apnea. Crumpler had all these ailments and his most critical health metrics were slumping.

“I was afraid to go to the doctor to get a checkup,” remembered Crumpler. “I didn't want to know what was happening to my body. You know, that fear of the unknown.”

It was during a routine meeting between the Falcons and Emory Healthcare, the team’s official health care provider, when Crumpler’s situation was discussed, and the idea of a health program designed for him came about.

Tameka Rish, a Falcons executive, and longtime friend of Crumpler’s, knew Emory Healthcare could help. “They could use their expertise to create a case study and documentary following him through the process,” says Rish. “Then when we got to the other side, not only would we have a story to tell, but I truly believed we would change his life.”

Together, the Falcons and Emory Healthcare approached Crumpler with the concept and to help him get his mental and physical health back on track — most importantly, a concrete plan he could follow. He knew he could help himself, and could also share his story and help others. Faced with a potentially life-threatening situation, Crumpler embraced the opportunity. 

A team approach

Emory Healthcare has been the Falcons’ official team physicians for many years. As the most comprehensive academic health care system in Georgia, the organization is a strong collaborator for Falcons players through every aspect of care, both on and off the field. Scott Boden, MD, director of Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, was asked to assemble a comprehensive and integrated team of physicians to help Crumpler. 

Crumpler and Jonathan Kim

Alge Crumpler meets with Emory sports cardiologist Jonathan Kim, MD, to discuss his heart health plan.

“Medicine, nowadays, is a team sport,” says Boden. “That’s why we invited a number of people from different specialties to join the team, each with a specialty to help Alge through his journey. He met his ‘dream team’ for the first time in 2018, sharing his story and medical history to help the care team craft a plan. Then Alge kicked off his game plan by doing something he was afraid to do earlier — getting a comprehensive check-up and analysis by a primary care physician.

Throughout his journey, Crumpler was treated by experts providing highly-specialized care for the unique health issues of a former NFL player. Specialists in endocrinology, primary care, orthopaedic sports medicine, psychiatry and cardiology were part of the team. The doctors gave Crumpler a regimen to follow and helped him stay on track throughout the process. 

Crucial support

Crumpler joined a kickboxing gym near his home early on and started working out regularly with a former teammate, Chris Croker. Crumpler shed nearly 60 pounds in the first 100 days.

Alge boxing

Crumpler got back in the gym and worked out regularly, helping to regain his health.

“He is very competitive,” says Crumpler’s wife, Jen. “When he sets a goal, he’s going to hit that goal because he doesn’t want to tell anybody he didn’t reach something he was going for.”

But two years into his transformation, COVID-19 caused a backslide. Reduced access to the gym and a fallback to a more sedentary lifestyle, along with knee pain, resulted in adding 30 pounds. Leaning on his family and social network for support to get through the COVID setback helped, but it wasn’t easy.

He relied on his relationships as well as Emory Healthcare to get back on track. Crumpler says, “Without those previous relationships I’m not sure that would have happened.” 

The results

It has been four years since the Falcons, Emory Healthcare and Crumpler teamed up to change his life. After all that time, he still impresses his doctors with his drive and motivation.

“I’m glad I’m committed to a routine at this point in my life,” says Crumpler. “My health matters and I’ll continue to work. I know that.”

Crumpler has a healthier outlook on life and is much more fit. More importantly, all of his dangerous health metrics have turned from red to green.

“I think it’s safe to say,” suggests Boden, “if Alge had not made a decision to take control of his own health — sought the collaboration and teamwork with Emory Healthcare — undoubtedly, he would've been taken from us at far too young of an age. I hope people will look at this and say, ‘If he could do this, I could do this.’”

Emory Healthcare can help

Taking care of your health isn’t always easy. If you’re ready to make a change, call Emory Healthcare at 770-525-1455. A nurse specialist will help guide you through every stage of your health care journey.

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