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Norman’s Story

Norman Hand and SonThe H.A.N.D. Organization was created in July 2010 to continue a living legacy to a great person, former NFL nose tackle Norman L. Hand who passed away on May 14th, 2010. He was only 37 years old.

H.A.N.D. is an acronym for Hoping Another Never Dies. It was created by Toni Charles, the mother of Norman Hand’s youngest son who at the time of his death was only 6 years old.

When you mention the name Norman Hand, most would say he was a ferocious athlete who clogged the middle of the field against opposing offenses. Some will talk about a chance meeting they may have had with the big guy who played for the New Orleans Saints they call the “Big Wiggle” and how that chance meeting led to a lifetime friendship with his fans.

However others like myself, knew Norman not only as a professional football player but as a father, a brother and friend.

Norman was born in Queens, New York to Walter and Delores Hand. He would be the last of their children together. As the baby boy, he was nurtured from the beginning from his loving older siblings. Before his teenage years, Norman and his family moved down south to Walterboro, South Carolina which would become his home.

Growing up Norman had a typical teenage childhood. His christening into sports came by accident. One day Norman was playing pick-up basketball with some other students. Norman being the biggest of the group assembled decided to show his strength and declares he would dunk the next pass to thrown to him. The pass is thrown in Norman’s path. The sideline players waited anxiously to see what would happen next. Norman takes the pass, dribbles down court and goes up hard. He slams the ball and shatters the glass!!! The big kid was scared. What was he going to do??? Coach Leroy Riley saw the whole thing. Norman asked Coach Riley if he could make payment arrangements to replace the goal. Coach Riley told him no, but asked him to join the football team instead. Coach Riley saw something in Norman that he would later describe as greatness. As a senior in high school, Norman excelled at the Tight-End position where he was selected as Honorable Mention for the Parade All American team and USA Today teams. After high school, Norman attended Itawamba Junior College before transferring to the University of Mississippi where he was converted into a lineman. He became a two year starter. While at Ole Miss, he was a second All SEC Selection.

Norman began his professional career as the 5th round Draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 1995. He played for two seasons with Miami before moving to the San Diego Chargers. After three seasons, he was designated as the franchise player. His ability to clogg the middle was an attraction to most NFL teams. Always a Southern guy, he came back south when the New Orleans Saints offered to signed him to a multimillion dollar contract. He was with the organization for five seasons before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks. In 2004 he joined the New York Giants, a team he loved as a youth. After just one season, he retired with an injury. After retirement Norman went back to the place that he loved the most …Walterboro, South Carolina.

The first year of retirement was tough for Norman. After the game checks stopped, Norman begin to look to his former investors for basic living expenses, car payments, support payments, etc. only to be told nothing was there.

Most people didn’t know the dark side of the player with the infectious smile. Norman was hiding serious personal issues. A failed marriage and missed support payments were just the beginning. His personal finances were ruined because of gambling debts and his health was deteriorating.

When Norman played football, he was treated to the best doctors and the best therapist. He was trained how to maximize his peak performance under the direction of trainer to star athletes, Mackie Shilstone. After retirement none of those luxuries were made available. Not fully understanding exactly what happens to their bodies after retirement, most players take a break from lifting, running and eating healthy …not realizing their bodies are getting the one of the hardest tests ever.

Norman was not prepared mentally or physically for retirement. Not only was Norman dealing with the physical dilemma with constant weight gain, those things that he placed in a box in the back of his mind were now at the forefront and he had no idea how to seek help. He was depressed about his weight issues and his personal relationships with his children.

On the surface, one would think: Here’s a guy who has played football for many years, he should be somewhere enjoying life. That guy that retired at 335 lbs, after one year of retirement ballooned to 375 lbs. At the age of 34, he had what the doctors termed a mild heart attack and extremely high blood pressure. He was now taking medication daily to control his blood pressure. Lack of access to money was a constant issue. He sometimes went without medication because he was too embarrassed to ask anyone for help including the NFL. Then the mental destruction began again as it did while he was playing in Seattle. In February 2004, Norman attempted suicide. He could not cope with the feelings that he was ill, could not support his children one of whom suffers from Autism, broken friendships and relationships. He came to a place where he felt this was his way out. Thank God he was caught in time.

You see, I know the Norman Hand that was trying in his last years of life to “right” a lot of wrongs that were done in particular with children. He loved his children (Norman, Isaiah, Alexis, Aaron and Trey) so much and wanted badly to have them all together. Sadly, the only time they all were together was at his funeral. My son who is the youngest, spent his entire summer vacation with his dad. Norman would visit New Orleans a few weeks out the year, but the summer vacation was their exclusive time together. Two weeks before his passing, Trey visited his dad for spring break. Norman would later tell me in a phone call that he was so happy during Trey’s visit. He said it was the best time they ever spent together.

Norman could have been alive today to see his sons grow to be young men and hear his daughter speak her first words if there were some type of transitional health care for retired players. Access to the best doctors, the best staff and the best equipment are afforded to players.

But what happens when the whistle blows for the final time?

If Norman would have received optimum health care that his body was used to receiving while playing, his illnesses would have been treated properly.

If doctors would have taken his suicide attempts as him reaching out for help, maybe he would have faced the demons of his past which constantly haunted him.

The H.A.N.D. Organization would like the NFL to add three years of basic health screenings to include metabolic syndrome testing and screening for injuries related to head trauma.

Players are dying younger.

Studies have shown that heavy NFL players are twice as likely to die before age 50{Scripps Howard Study, 2006}.

Norman Hand was only 37.



  • Norman’s Story

    Norman's StoryThe H.A.N.D Organization was created in July 2010 to continue a living legacy to a great person, former NFL nose tackle Norman L. Hand who passed away on May 14th, 2010. He was only 37 years old.
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