Kendall Gammon doesn’t know what it’s like to adjust to life after the military, he shared, but the former Kansas City Chiefs long snapper is familiar with losing a sense of identity and community upon leaving the NFL after 15 years.
“I always talked about the fact that it was the best temporary job I’d ever have, and eventually, I’d have to do something else,” explained Gammon, who played with the Chiefs until 2006, following multi-year stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. “What I found out was — when I got out — I was 15 years behind everybody else who started after college. And that’s not unlike a lot of military veterans.”
The resulting idle time can be difficult, continued Gammon, who is now the director of development for War Horses for Veterans, a nonprofit that helps veterans and active military personnel during their transition from combat to civilian life through immersive horse-related activities.
“It used to be their time was spoken for,” he explained. “It was dictated by somebody else in the military, just like it is in the NFL. But when you get out, now all of a sudden, you — to a degree — lose a sense of self and who you are.”
“But on the veteran side, it’s a lot worse because of the traumatic experiences they have been through, the PTSD, the detachment from home,” he added.
But whether a military veteran or a former NFL player, you lose your teammates when that chapter closes, noted Gammon, a Wichita-area native and Pittsburg State University grad who was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2022.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What do I miss about football?’” he said. “And I say, ‘Well, naturally I miss the checks. But the thing I actually miss is the camaraderie of the locker room and being in there.’ And that’s no different than the military. They have their regiment. They have their group. They have whoever it is they’re fighting with or serving with, and all of a sudden, that ends.”
This all hit home for Gammon, he noted, when he was talking to a U.S. Navy Seal who was getting ready to transition out of service after more than 20 years. The Seal told him he didn’t know what he was going to do since his career in the Navy had become his identity.
“You could tell the trepidation on his face as he was talking about it, how real it was,” he recalled. “A lot of vets deal with that.”
On top of raising awareness and funds for War Horses for Veterans — which was launched in 2014 by co-founders Andy and Patricia Brown and Patrick Benson — Gammon, who has a career as a motivational speaker, also shares his story with each group of combat veterans, special operation forces, and first responders that go through the all-expenses-paid, five-week program.
“I was abused by my mom from ages 10 to 16, physically and emotionally,” he explained. “Then I sat on the bed with a gun in my hand at age 16 and considered making a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“If all I tell them is I played in the Super Bowl, I went to a pro bowl, I played 15 years, they can’t connect with me on that,” Gammon continued. “But then when I tell them these other things, I’m vulnerable. They’re like, ‘OK, everybody’s got shit. Everybody’s got stuff going on.’ And from there, it kind of breaks down the walls a little bit at times for the guys.”
Despite his professional speaking experience, he said, he never gets more intimidated than when speaking with military veterans.
“I always start off by telling them, what they do on a daily basis has enabled me to make something as benign as throwing a ball between my legs — being a long snapper in the NFL — the central part of my life that made a lot of money for me, and allowed me to do a lot of different things,” Gammon explained. “So I’ve never tried to lose sight of that because I just think it’s so very important.”
A new line of scrimmage
Gammon first got involved with War Horses for Veterans a little more than a year ago when a friend told him about the Stillwell, Kansas-based nonprofit, he shared.
“I remember her telling me, ‘What you speak about is exactly what they’re doing out there,’” he recalled, “Because I speak all over the country. I’ve written a couple books (‘Life’s a Snap: Building on the Past to Improve Your Future’ and ‘Game Plan: Leadership Lessons from the Best of the NFL’). I’m big on mental health and (vulnerability).”
After meeting with the nonprofit’s leaders, he said, just a few days later he was speaking to a group of Navy Seals and he’s been speaking to every group since. Then about four months ago, Gammon approached the Browns about helping with fundraising and raising awareness for the organization, which plans to host its Derby Party fundraiser May 4.
“We’re actually more well known nationally than we are locally,” he noted of the nonprofit, which has been featured on the “Megyn Kelly Today” show and in People Magazine. “We’re trying to change that because we have such a big military presence here with Fort Leavenworth and, of course, we’ve got Fort Riley out west.”
Gammon gets excited about their work because it truly makes a difference, he said.
“It’s pretty cool when you have friends of theirs come through and the only reason they are here is because they were told about it by the guys who have come through,” Gammon added. “Or you have the mentors come back and they’re like, ‘Man, this is great. It’s so great to be back.’”
Veterans or first responders don’t often seek help, Gammon said; and sometimes not until they reach their breaking point.
“Normal therapy programs don’t seem like an option for them,” he explained. “So they’re not sure what to do.”
War Horses for Veterans provides programs for them that don’t look or feel like traditional therapy, he continued, and that helps them build or rebuild foundational skills in communication, self-awareness, and goal development.
“They’re used to being in control of everything,” he said. “Now all of a sudden you got a 1,000-pound animal that you’ve never ridden before — because most of the guys have not ridden — and it’s a little intimidating, I think, to a degree. So getting them to trust the animal and build up a relationship is something that they can take home, also, not just in their professional life, but probably more importantly, in their personal life.”
Gammon — who not only played seven seasons for the Chiefs but was also on the Chiefs Network Radio from 2008 to 2020 — is still involved with the organization as a Chiefs Ambassador, with other former players who are involved in the community outreach program.
He is hoping to get other Ambassadors — and possibly some active players — out to the War Horses for Veterans ranch in Stillwell during the offseason, he said. But for now he is excited for the Chiefs fourth Super Bowl in five years.
“I don’t think Chiefs Kingdom takes it for granted — but if they do — they shouldn’t because this is something that doesn’t happen very often,” Gammon said of the Super Bowl campaigns. “To not only have the type of players we have, but to have the type of players we have who were such real and authentic people. They’re all good guys, but Patrick (Mahomes) and Travis (Kelce) both are just good people, not to mention the best ever at what they do.”