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Tiger-Cats alumni come together to help fellow former football players who fall on ‘tough times’

As a former offensive lineman with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Peter Dyakowski knows how hard life after retirement in sports can be. 

“Unfortunately sometimes some of our members fall on tough times after they’re done playing or later in life,” Dyakowski said. “That’s why we’ve got our support fund.”

Dyakowski is helping to raise funds to help former professional football players in need, and support local youth football groups, with a St. Patrick’s Day party on Friday. 

Dyakowski played for the Tiger-Cats from 2007 to 2016. He also ran in the 2019 federal election for the Hamilton Mountain seat as a Conservative candidate. 

He told CBC Hamilton the Hamilton Tiger-Cat Alumni Association (HTCAA) usually raises money for its support fund through golf fundraisers but Dyakowski said he wanted to get extra funding using this party, which runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hall of Fame Club at Tim Hortons Field.

Crosstown Traffic, a cover band based in Dundas and Burlington, Ont., will be performing and Dyakowski expects other alumni, including those from out of town, to be there. 

‘When the glory of football is faded’

Dyakowski shared stories of football alumni that received help from the support fund, saying players sometimes need help getting back on their feet and readjusting to life outside of physical competition. 

“Not a lot of former players go on to bigger things after playing in the [Canadian Football League],” Dyakowski said. “We have a way to extend support to former players that fall on tough times when the glory of football is faded.”

A man's headshot. Peter Dyakowski has helped organize Friday’s fundraiser. (Submitted by Peter Dyakowski)

The local fund is similar to one by the same name run by the Canadian Football League Alumni Association, which offers “financial support to fellow alumni who are experiencing financial hardship due to a medical condition or the sudden loss of income.”

Football-related injuries are known to plague players, during and after their sports careers. 

Neuroscientist Chris Nowinski, founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said in an interview with CBC earlier this year that he worried in particular about how many of retired football players suffer from heart disease, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy and concussions.

“More people are dying from long-term effects than they are dying from acute effects. They’re dying away from the cameras. They’re not dying on the field,” he said. 

In Hamilton, Dyakowski said the HTCAA hasn’t been able to help as many people as he would like each year, but has been valuable for those it did.

According to Dyakowski, one alumnus was able to receive needed financial support while he was in a mental health treatment program.

“In all the cases where we’ve given support to players more so than just the money that we provide… is the sense that you let the guy know he’s not alone,” Dyakowski said.

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