"I've been down dark places."
That admission by Mark Rypien - Spokane's superstar NFL quarterback turned cancer philanthropist - set-off a month's-long investigation of this hometown hero by KHQ, culminating this week in a no-holds-barred conversation with Rypien himself.
Now KHQ can reveal for the first time the depths of his depression, the worst of his behavior, and the truth about his mental illness - brought about, he believes, by a lifetime of football.
"I suffer from a complex stew of mental health conditions," Rypien says. "Dark places, depression, anxiety, addictions, poor choices, poor decisions, brought about by dozens of concussions and thousands of sub-concussive injuries from playing this sport."
He describes his mental illness as a disease that has robbed him of his best self: impaired judgment, impulse control problems, anger management issues. "Sometimes I don't have any idea what I'm doing tomorrow, or what I did yesterday," Rypien says. "It's all a blur. "
As for the "dark places"? Throughout our conversation, Rypien referred several times to "poor decisions" and "choices" but wouldn't be specific.
That includes persistent rumors that have plagued him surrounding a 2012 prostitution sting in Spokane. Several sources have confirmed to KHQ that Rypien was involved - although, to be clear, his name never appeared on any list of customers.
KHQ anchor Stephanie Vigil asked him about this:
VIGIL: "Did you frequent the spas that were shut down?"
RYPIEN: "What I've done in my life is I've stumbled. I've even falled [sic]. I've tried... what I'm doing, is turning these stumbling blocks into stepping stones."
VIGIL: "Am I to take that as a 'yes'?"
RYPIEN: "I've made poor decisions."
Later, when Vigil asked Rypien whether any of the women he may have been with were underage, he asked to stop the interview and briefly left the room. He returned some minutes later, apologizing that the question was "scary" and it "hit him like a ton of bricks", but said, "To my knowledge, in all the years that I've been here, I've never been with an underage woman."
There have been others who have suffered because of Mark's mental illness. KHQ obtained a police report describing an episode of domestic violence involving Rypien and his wife, Danielle, from November 2017. Mark acknowledges the incident, blaming it on new medication that he was taking to help deal with his mental health problems.
"Part of this thing is getting the right medications. When you use something that doesn't address that? That impulse control? You go from zero to 60 very quickly," Rypien says. "I don't remember that night. I remember losing control."
The charges were dropped and the case was eventually dismissed.
But Rypien says the symptoms of his mental illness presents a "daily" struggle for him. I suffer depression and anxiety. I suffer isolation," he says. "In a social environment. I'm pretty good. But I can't wait to be home, and just be alone."
It was in one of those solitary moments that Rypien attempted to take his own life. "I took 150 pills and a bottle of booze," Rypien says. "If it wasn't for my wife coming home and finding me on the floor, and shoving hydrogen peroxide down my throat, and charcoal, to throw up all these pills, I wouldn't be here today."
Today, Rypien says he has his medication figured out, and currently sees several mental and physical health specialists, including a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a regular doctor. "I feel that these professionals have got me stabilized," Rypien says. "They've helped me turn the corner. They've given me the tools necessary to live my life in a way that helps others and that stays away from the choices and decisions I make."
Rypien's symptoms - and struggles - closely resemble those of fellow football players Junior Seau and Mike Webster, both of whom were diagnosed posthumously with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
CTE cannot currently be diagnosed in a living brain, only after an autopsy; Rypien has vowed to donate his brain to science when he dies. But he says current medical technology has already detected problems with his cognitive functions. "It's not a normal brain, that's what they've told me," Rypien says. "I got a full neurological scan. Again, the scans they're looking at? They're not normal scans."
Rypien was the lead plaintiff in the landmark concussion lawsuit that lead to a settlement from the NFL. But today, Rypien joins many other former pro-football players in the suit who have been sharply critical of the league's handling of the payout, saying they haven't seen any money in the years since. "I think (the NFL) is a powerhouse. They're going to tie things up in court. And I truly believe they are going to tie things up in court until people die," Rypien says.
Reflecting on his career - which includes winning Super Bowl XXVI with the Washington Redskins - and what it's cost him both mentally and physically, KHQ asked Rypien whether he thought playing football was worth it. "I would change it. I don't enjoy going through the strategies, and the medicine to just try to live a normal life," Rypien says. "As much as I love sports. I'd try something else. I'd become a really good swimmer. I'd become a really good tennis player. I'd become something. I'd do something that kept me from the hits, the concussive and sub-concussive hits that I took."
For now, Rypien is focused on starting a new movement focused on the mental health needs of Spokane, with an emphasis on suicide prevention."I want to leave a legacy. Football is football, I don't want that to define me. The darkest of times I went through post football, I don't want that to define me," Rypien says.
"If we can come back here, and I can save one life by this interview and as a group we can save other lives, than I feel like I'm doing my legacy."
(story: Kelly Hatmaker, KHQ Content Brand Manager; photo & video: KHQ.com)