CHICAGO -- Hunter Hillenmeyer’s professional football career might be winding down, but the former Chicago Bears linebacker remains plugged-in to the ongoing NFL labor dispute.
The team’s former player representative -- a role currently held by kicker Robbie Gould -- Hillenmeyer landed on injured reserve Sept. 14, 2010 due to a concussion and because players on IR tend not to be around the facility every day, Hillenmeyer pushed for the Bears to elect a new player rep (Gould). Hillenmeyer continued to serve as an alternate representative, and even though the Bears released the veteran on Feb. 28, he continues to help Gould provide lockout updates to members of the Bears roster.
“It’s tricky because there is definitely progress, but you have to know the starting points to know exactly where that progress has gotten to,” Hillenmeyer told ESPNChicago.com on Tuesday. “In our most recent conference calls, one of our key things that DeMaurice Smith was trying to communicate to the player reps was ‘listen, people in the media outlets have to have some news, people want to know what’s going on, so they’re probably going to lean towards making more out of the day-to-day than there really is.’ DeMaurice message was that a deal is not imminent and it’s dangerous for players to think that because if guys go spending money like they think there is going to be a paycheck coming on the date of the first game, that’s a dangerous mindset for players to have.
“While we are certainly optimistic that it gets done way before that, and we can have a normal preseason and a normal regular season, players have got to prepare for the worst. That’s a daunting thing but an important message to communicate. I’ll tip my hat to Robbie on this one, because he did something that was absolutely necessary and put our entire team on the same e-mail chain. That’s always an easy way to communicate and something we had never done in the past. Robbie and I, every time we have a conference call or we get information from Smith or any of the players on the executive committee, we’ll pass that along or give the highlights to the other players. Some guys take a really active interest. There are really a couple of guys on the Bears who e-mail or text me bi-weekly, and then there are other guys who just want it to get done, just like the fans.”
A versatile linebacker who started 69 regular-season games and posted a pair of 100-plus tackle seasons for the Bears from 2003-09, Hillenmeyer, originally selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth-round of the 2003 NFL draft, is unsure whether to continue playing after suffering a concussion playing special teams against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 of the 2010 regular season.
“I’m still figuring that out, but I’ve obviously had the benefit of time on my side. It’s crazy to me does start, there are 500-600 free agents out there who are trying to figure out, not just what their contract is going to look like, but what team they’re going to be playing for,” Hillenmeyer said. “You’re going to have a period where it’s bedlam whenever it gets worked out, where general managers and agents are literally not going to be able to sleep for weeks because they’re going to have to figure out where everybody is going to land.
“I’m still weighing that decision because there are a lot of factors…doctors opinions and things like that are weighing into my decision. I love football. I really do wish I could play another four to five years, but I’m still in the information gathering stage trying to figure out what is the best thing is for me to do.”
Hillenmeyer remains heavily involved in teaching proper player safety and will host a free football camp at Northwestern University on Saturday, July 9 from 9 am to 2 pm. The proceeds from the camp, for players in grades 8-12, will benefit Gridiron Alliance, which helps athletes who have suffered spinal cord injuries playing high school football. The camp will feature position-specific training and combine style testing stations. Visit positionclinic.com for registration details.