By Cameron Buford, Whatsgoodinsports.com
Do you know the true story of former National Football League quarterback Erik Kramer? The Southern California kid who lived out most football players’ dreams, the father of two boys who had his life shattered multiple times in multiple fashions. The man attempted suicide only to survive a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Well, this article will summarize my recent sit down with Erik, as we discussed his journey through life, what he’s learned and the message he has for anyone dealing with the pressures and uncertainty life has to offer.
As a graduate of John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California. Erik attended Los Angeles’ Pierce Junior College and played quarterback, before transferring to North Carolina State University. Though he wasn’t drafted in the NFL team, when the NFL players went on strike in 1987, Erik joined the Atlanta Falcons as a replacement player during the NFL player’s strike. He was the last active “Scabs” (the NFL replacement players were referred to as scabs) to actively play after the NFL player’s strike.
Resiliency was a word they consistently came up with during my two and half hours with Erick. After he was cut in 1988, then after he spent half of the season in the CFL (Canadian Football League), it was Kramer’s resiliency that allowed him to continue his career in the NFL. After suffering a knee injury in practice, he learned that he needed to force his way in the door if he hoped to continue to play the game he loved.
In Erik’s return to the NFL in 1991, he replaced an injured Rodney Peete as the starter for the Detroit Lions. Kramer played in 13 games, led the Lions to a franchise-best record of 12–4, their first playoff victory since 1962, and a trip to the NFC Championship Game which is also been the last time the Lions have won a playoff game.
Kramer wasted no time answering the question when asked who the best player he played with was, “That’s a short list I would say, Barry Sanders! Because literally, we only had two running plays, draw to the right and draw to the left, and a slant off-tackle one way or the other. We didn’t have a tight end, so it was four Wide Receivers and Barry Sanders.” As Kramer remembers, “the Best thing
you could do was hand the ball off to Barry, not block anyone and let him go one on eleven.”
Life, off the field for Erik wasn’t as picturesque as some might have imagined. One of the most challenging incidents came as he watched his son Griffen battle with drug addiction. Having had his in sophomore year in High School interrupted by having to attend drug rehab. Griffen transitioned from inpatient care to outpatient care in early 2011.
He went from voluntarily sharing his thoughts during these outpatient group therapy sessions. To not sharing at all and becoming more recluse. He commented to Erik saying, ‘I just want to be able to do what normal high school kids do.’ Internally, Erik asks himself what part of his life had been normal.
Though Griffen was struggling with drug addiction, he simultaneously managed to shift from being the bully, older brother, to a caring brother that took his younger brother Dillion under his wing sort of speak. When asked, Erik said he did get the impression that Griffin suffered some pressures of living up to the expectations of having a successful NFL Quarterback as a father.
Griffen passed away from a drug overdose on October 30th, 2011. From being shot up with Heroin, in his toes, by a so-called friend and fellow addict. Griffen experienced an immediate response to this dose which included unconsciousness and foaming at the mouth. Unfortunately, Griffen was then left to die alone at the “friend’s” house who wasn’t equipped to properly respond to the traumatic overdose Griffen was experiencing. This was only the beginning of an ominous series of events that Erik would experience in the months and years to follow.
Only months after his eldest son died from and drug overdose, Erik finds out that his mother unsuspectingly had stage four uterine cancer. Though she survived the initial surgery, she would sadly succumb to this deadly disease in less than a year. Shortly thereafter, he became aware that his father was dealing with untreated acid reflux which had quickly morphed into esophageal cancer that he would battle with for multiple years.
Erik admitted that there weren’t many, or any, “moments of joy in his life at this time.” He also acknowledged that after dealing with his son’s struggles with drugs which cost him his life, his mother’s losing bout with cancer, and his father’s slow
deterioration from esophageal cancer sent Erik into a dark depression mentally which led to his attempt to take his own life.
Not being a gun enthusiast, he drove to a gun shop in Simi Valley acting as if he wanted to learn more about guns and he bought a Sig Sauer 9mm gun. Because he didn’t want his youngest son to find his dead body, He coordinated his suicide outside his home. Erik rented a hotel room in the Valley and unknowingly communicated his intentions with a friend, who happened to be a police officer. This would eventually be his saving grace.
Erik, clearly not as good a shot as he was a quarterback, was able to answer the phone once when the police officer called him to check on his well-being. At the same time, other officers were outside his hotel room door ready to assist him. Erik was then rushed to the hospital.
As if Erik Kramer’s story wasn’t tragic enough, this is where his life would take another inauspicious turn. During his rehabilitation process, he was rendered mentally inept and unable to care for and make decisions for himself. Longtime High School friend Anna Dergan was a pivotal role in Erik receiving the proper care needed to bring him back to living a decent life for himself.
As people came out to support Erik during his rehabilitation process. Through Anna’s assistance, Erik would go to Las Vegas to continue Brain Treatment Rehabilitation. It was then that former on and off girlfriend Courtney Baird would reestablish communication with Erik, “It was over those phone calls that Courtney had assessed me, and knew mentally I was off.” Erik continued when you mentioned Courtney, “she would’ve figured very quickly the state of mind that he was in.”
Courtney, to rebuild their relationship, would travel to Las Vegas to spend time with Erik. Together they would drive back to Southern California. A short while thereafter Courtney would move, her and her daughter, into Erik’s home. While at Erik’s home, Courtney began taking advantage of Erik’s inability to make complex cognitive decisions.
Without drawing any red flags, Courtney was able to make multiple unauthorized charges to Erik’s bank accounts. Regular withdrawals of $300- $500 helped drain the funds in Erik’s bank account, which had over $14,000 before his suicide
attempt. At one point this account would get overdrawn by $6,000. The funds from a memorial fund were set up after Griffen’s passing, which reached over $9,800, mysteriously began to be transferred in Kramer’s checking account giving access to anyone with Erik’s debit card.
Erik was known to live modestly, so the multiple packages that began to show up at his home drew a red flag. According to Anna, Amazon packages and purchases were not consistent with who Erik is and she began to identify the sources of the spending already understanding Erik’s spending habits.
By the time Dergan completed her investigations, she was able to show detectives that there had been over $46,000 of unauthorized spending of Erik’s bank account. When approached by detectives, Kramer was not able to understand or explain the severity or reasoning of the spending.
In an attempt to avoid prosecution Courtney Baird continued the manipulation of Kramer and proposed a sham marriage. Marrying a defenseless Kramer would seemingly protect her from further criminal investigation. Dergan still refused to relent, “I hate to see people get taken advantage of!”
A couple of years had passed, as Kramer had regained some of his cognitive thinking. He then wanted to buy a house, near his current home. He was subsequently denied to do so because he was ruled unable to make such financial decisions. Due to being conserved by the courts, because of Courtney’s fraudulent activities and the legalities of the investigations.
He then went to work with his attorneys to have the marriage annulled. Months later the sham marriage was nullified and this cost Kramer roughly $125,000 in legal fees. Including the conservatorship system and misappropriation of funds after his attempted suicide cost him roughly $600,000.
Erik Kramer is now a fully functioning adult, with a much better outlook on life. He a High School Football Coach for Chaminade College Prep, West Hills, CA. He is now lucid enough to proudly state that he wants his story to serve as a warning for all former NFL players and the NFLPA that players with diminished mental capacity and large bank accounts are easy targets.
When asked, Erik’s lasting message to those contemplating suicide is, “Don’t! There’s a lot of people that you might not see, that would be devastated if you
are successful doing what you’re contemplating doing.” He went on to say, “there’s more help out there than you know.” Lastly, Eric mentioned, “Find ways to pursue, whatever it is in life that you’re passionate about, and then never give up! Never give up on pursuing, because it’s that pursuit, that’s what life is.”
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