Jamie Dukes, a former NFL offensive lineman who entered the league as an undrafted free agent, played for the Falcons, Packers and Cardinals in a 10-year career (1986-95). Now working as an analyst for the NFL Network, Dukes is passionate about an issue that affects him and many other retired players—battling obesity and the major health issues it can cause. Dukes, 45, talked to Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer about the problem, the solution he found for himself and how he’s spreading the word about this issue.
Sporting News: How does obesity develop into a problem for retired NFL linemen?
Jamie Dukes: As a lineman, you’re trained to maintain body mass, so you gorge yourself to stay at 290 or more pounds over the course of your career. When you’re retired, not working out as much as you used to, taking on responsibilities like being a father, you realize your weight is getting progressively worse. There are no six and seven hours in the gym anymore. For me, 12 years after I finished playing, I was a biscuit away from 400 pounds.
SN: How did you overcome the problem?
JD: I had some teammates who passed away—Reggie White from sleep apnea, Ricky Bryan from a heart attack—that were directly related to being overweight. I tried all the diets, and I would lose 15 pounds here and there, but then would come a family vacation and I put it all back on again. I then heard about the gastric band procedure, and since July 16, 2008, it’s helped me lose 110 pounds.
SN: How does the gastric band work?
JD: It’s a numbers game, really. The procedure sets up a silicone band around the stomach, so it closes up more quickly. I used to consume 10-12 ounce portions, and now they’re much smaller. It sends a sensation to your brain that you’re full, so you’re unable to consume large quantities. You can still eat all the foods you like, just less of them. You don’t have issues with feeling hungry. It’s just a 30-minute procedure, and I’ve had no medical issues.
SN: How have you spread the word about your success?
JD: Many former players contacted me after watching me on television, melting away the pounds right in front of their eyes. There’s a lot of disability that comes with being obese, and a lot of guys have knee or other joint replacements. Literally, they want help taking off the weight that their lower body is carrying.
SN: Is there something players can do to prevent this during their active career?
JD: We all make a deal to play this game. It’s not when they’re playing or right when guys retire—that’s when they’re most physically fit. It’s after that when those muscles turn into fat.
SN: Have a good story on how you’ve inspired another former player?
JD: I was at the Super Bowl, and the Saints were honoring one of their great former linebackers, Rickey Jackson. New Orleans is about to celebrate this victory, and he asked me "Tell me, what you done to lose all that weight?" It speaks volumes. It was so stunning to me, with his team right there, winning a championship, that was the first thing we talked about.
SN: Do you consider yourself the leader of this cause?
JD: I’m not the first player to recognize this problem. I’m just trying to do my part. With my Put Up Your Dukes foundation, it’s there to help those who haven’t connected the dots that a lot of what they’re going through comes from what I call a disease of excess.
SN: So is it more wishful thinking with other weight-loss solutions?
JD: It’s all about going from supersized consumption to eating in moderation. There are different ways to go about just shutting it off and keep from being overweight.
SN: How about fighting this problem from a young age?
JD: Childhood obesity is big issue, and through the NFL’s Play 60 program, we’re trying to get kids more involved in getting in enough physical activity every day. It’s not good that P.E. is being pulled out of a lot of schools. With Xbox and other video games, more kids are on the couch moreoften. We’ve got to work to get them back outside.
Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.