Football

UNC in contact with homeless former football player Ryan Hoffman

Ryan Hoffman with a panhandling sign and his girlfriend Michelle Pettigrew, in background, at a busy intersection in Lakeland, Fla., Jan. 7, 2015. Hoffman, once a 287-pound starting left tackle for a top-ten ranked University of North Carolina football team, renowned for his toughness and durability, is now plagued with short-term memory problems and lives on the street, sometimes begging money from passing cars.
Ryan Hoffman with a panhandling sign and his girlfriend Michelle Pettigrew, in background, at a busy intersection in Lakeland, Fla., Jan. 7, 2015. Hoffman, once a 287-pound starting left tackle for a top-ten ranked University of North Carolina football team, renowned for his toughness and durability, is now plagued with short-term memory problems and lives on the street, sometimes begging money from passing cars. Raleigh

Ryan Hoffman once helped UNC-Chapel Hill win football games and lift the Tar Heels into the national polls.

Hoffman, a former offensive lineman who has been homeless and possibly battling the the impact of football-related head injuries, now could be receiving some help from the university.

A photograph of Hoffman posing in front of the Old Well on the UNC campus with former teammate Beau Parry was being shared on social media Wednesday.

When questioned about the Instagram photo and other reports that Hoffman was on campus, UNC officials declined to confirm that Hoffman has been brought to Chapel Hill for evaluation and treatment. “The University has been in contact with Ryan and his family, and we have been working together to provide Ryan the best appropriate assistance,” UNC said in a statement. “We appreciate and join the outpouring of sympathy and support for Ryan and his family.”

Parry, a former UNC linebacker who has used social media in recent weeks to help raise funds to help Hoffman, also posted a recent photo of Hoffman wearing a UNC sweater and holding a UNC football helmet.

Hoffman’s story of living on the streets in Lakeland, Fla., was reported this month by The New York Times. His sister, Kira Soto, has begun a fund to help pay for his medical treatment and funds also are being raised on Facebook and such online sites as greatestfan.com.

According to The Times’ account, Hoffman has been homeless for more than eight months, begging for money on street corners. He told The Times he was addicted to alcohol and prescription medication, had sold drugs and had spent time in jail.

Hoffman, 40, blames football, in large part, for his problems. The head trauma and other brain injuries from playing the sport, he told The Times, have left him unable to function normally, although he also believes he could have a genetic mental illness.

UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham declined to confirm that Hoffman was on campus on Wednesday. University officials have been reluctant to talk much on the record about his story, and what UNC is doing for Hoffman.

“We’re certainly aware of Ryan’s situation,” Cunningham said in Jacksonville, Fla., where the UNC basketball team is preparing for the NCAA tournament. “And Rick Steinbacher has been great in communicating with him.

“And so we are trying to provide appropriate resources for Ryan and his family.”

Steinbacher, a senior associate athletic director at UNC, played alongside Hoffman at the university. Steinbacher has served as kind of a liaison between UNC and Hoffman and his family.

At UNC, Hoffman would have access to some of the most respected researchers in the country in sport-related brain injuries. Kevin Guskiewicz, a UNC professor, is the co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center.

Once 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds as a UNC player in the late-1990s, Hoffman has lost more than 100 pounds, The Times reported. The newspaper reported Hoffman rebuffed an earlier offer to fly him to Chapel Hill in a private plane.

The Times said Cunningham conferred with the NCAA to receive approval to assist Hoffman. It said Guskiewicz, one of the nation’s leading concussion experts, had agreed to evaluate Hoffman at no charge.

Staff writer Andrew Carter contributed

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