Former NFL linebacker David Meggyesy is in Ashland taking lessons in “social engineering” and workshop leadership from philosopher-author Jean Houston. Meggyesy’s quest is to help other retirees lead useful lives by tackling world crises such as global warming and poverty. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julai Moore

Ex-NFLer looks beyond the sidelines

Now retired from a life in pro football — first as a linebacker with the St. Louis Cardinals and then in the NFL Players Association — 71-year old Dave Meggyesy has a dim view of retirement.

So he is launching a project called "Mature Men Going for the Gold" to help older men lead useful lives by helping out with world crises such as global warming and poverty.

The muscled, still-trim Meggyesy, a Port Townsend, Wash., resident, is in Ashland for a month being mentored in "social engineering" and workshop leadership by noted philosopher-author Jean Houston.

"The project addresses the question, 'What are you going to do with your retirement?' " Meggyesy says. "You have an average 30 years ahead of you after 65. If you want to play golf and go fishing every day, then go do it. But if you've had a successful, creative life, you don't want to stop. Let's keep changing our community against a backdrop of serious problems, starting with global warming."

Meggyesy plans to seek out bright, accomplished elders, mentor them in Houston's social engineering processes, visions and styles and, where possible, get paid for doing important work.

His project requires a shift in consciousness so participants can look at the world a different way — "deepened and broadened from the old focus on 'me and mine,' " he says.

"You are shifting to a world-centric view and ending all the divisiveness, the red and blue states, the idea that 'I got mine and tough if you don't got yours.' "

Houston has been an adviser to political leaders, UNICEF and the United Nations Development Group, where she trains leaders in "social artistry," she says. She is the author of 28 books, including "The Search for the Beloved" and the new "The Wizard of Us," which debuts soon on Oprah, Houston says.

Meggyesy, a player at Syracuse University and for the NFL's Cardinals from 1963 to 1969, began explorations into consciousness, peace and civil rights while still on the gridiron, attending Esalen workshops and founding the St. Louis End the War Committee in his home.

Though he loved the game, he says, he refused a dictum from former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that required all players to line up on the sidelines, football helmet under one arm and hand on heart, for the national anthem, in protest against the war.

"I just held my helmet with both hands and bowed my head," he says. "Sports commentators wrote about it ... and the next week I was benched. They refused to tell me why. The backfield complained that the replacement was no good, but that was the end of my career, after seven years. They said they wanted to trade me to the (San Francisco) 49ers, but I declined."

Angry and wounded, Meggyesy wrote "Out of Their League," a memoir critical of the harsh ways of the NFL, the virtual servitude enforced by owners on players and the lack of medical care for injuries, which forced most players out of the game. Most of this has changed now, he says.

The book "exposes the dehumanizing quality of the game — the fraud, payoffs, racism, drug abuse and violence," says the cover blurb, beside an image of a helmet adorned with '60s peace flowers.

Going from years of football to knowing you'll never play the game again is what players call "the dreaded transition," and it's a grieving process, Meggyesy notes, with the familiar stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — a process Meggyesy is dedicated to tackling in a big way, with men from all walks of life.

"When you leave the game, the money changes. There's no locker-room fun, no friends from the sport. The scouts are always out looking for someone to replace you, and you need to understand that. It's pretty dramatic, a major shakeup of your existence and your psyche. What the hell are you going to do with your life?"

Meggyesy went on to do construction, co-founded the Esalen Sports Center, taught "Sports Consciousness and Social Change" at Stanford University, coached football for Tamalpais High School in Marin County, then went to work as western regional director of the NFL Players Association, helping players make the transition to post-football life.

"At 65, it was mandatory retirement from the NFLPA. I was at the peak of my knowledge, communication skills, writing ability — a productive, capable human being," says Meggyesy, who had just served in "the 11-Year war" that won from owners greater control of revenues, free agency and choice of city and team for players.

"Some people go fishing when that retirement day arrives. Others say, 'I've got a lot of skills and knowledge, so let's build new institutions and programs, make this world a better place for you and me' — and let's start by changing and deepening what's inside."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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