Interviews

Published on February 9th, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Despite Medical Clearance, “Who Dat” Hero, Garrett Hartley Denied XFL Roster Spot!

Kicker Garrett Hartley dealt more adversity. Refuses to give up on his dreams to kick professionally again.

The XFL relaunched on Saturday. The opening game featured The DC Defenders defeating the Seattle Dragons 31-19. Absent from the Seattle Dragons roster was former New Orleans Saints hero, Garrett Hartley. On January 24th, 2020, through his social media, Hartley made it official that he had joined the XFL’s Seattle Dragons. However, the XFL would not medically clear, Hartley who had an artificial disc procedure in 2018 and had been medically cleared by the surgeon [Dr. Watkins Jr.], NFL Institute of Tulane and his MRI documents. During his workout for the Dragons, he nailed 19 of 20 field goals with a long of 55-yards, which made the medical release that much tougher. Ironically on January 24th, 2010, literally 10-years prior, Hartley made a 40-yard field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings to send the New Orleans Saints to Super Bowl 44, where they would go on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. During that Super Bowl, Hartley became the first kicker in Super Bowl history to convert 3-field goals of 40 yards or beyond [46, 44 and 47].

During my recent conversation with, Hartley, he describes the anguish of receiving the news that he wasn’t going to be allowed to play in the XFL, his future plans and much more.

Garrett, it’s been a journey, man. You were a member of the Seattle Dragons in the XFL. And then all of a sudden you were told that medically, they weren’t going to take a chance with you. Explain the emotional roller coaster these past few weeks have been for you.

Garrett Hartley: I was a part of the Seattle Dragons. One morning I was actually 19 of 20. Ten of those were snap-hold-kick and the other ten was just off my sticks. I was 19 of 20 with a long of 55. I was feeling great. I’m healthy, in shape and that afternoon, I got word that the XFL had came back and said that they weren’t going to pass me medically due to a procedure I had in 2018; even though I’ve been medically cleared from a world-renowned spine surgeon. Which is the same surgeon that operated on, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods and many other athletes. His reputation speaks for itself. Unfortunately, with his backing as well as the NFL Institute of Tulane in New Orleans, the XFL would not grant me permission to play.

To be clear, you were never looked at by an XFL physician. They made this decision simply based on the procedure you had received.

Garrett Hartley: Absolutely! I understand that this was not a team decision. The Seattle Dragons did everything they could to keep me there. They know what they saw in regard to my performance. This was never a performance issue. The XFL owns all eight teams, so this was not a Seattle Dragons decision. But you’re right, I never saw any orthopedic or spine specialists from the XFL while I was there to have them evaluate me. And that’s with my MRI report coming back saying that I was cleared to play from the NFL Institute of Tulane here in New Orleans.

You obviously worked extremely hard to get to the point of a team wanting you to be a part of their squad. This isn’t the end for you, right? You plan on getting back on the grind and earning the opportunity to kick again for a team, correct?

Garrett Hartley: There is no question about that. This is instilled in me. My work ethic… which I’ve had unfortunately since my injury with the Steelers in preseason. Knowing I had the job and to have a freak thing like that happen. And then to come back. When I’m training, to know that something was going on with my neck. I battled it for a couple of years trying to put off surgery. But ultimately it came to the point where I needed it. Everything I have done since then, from training with, John Carney in San Diego to reestablishing myself as a pro player with the XFL, knowing I have what it takes from a performance standard to be back playing pro football. Like you said, this is not the end, this is a step to merely put it in perspective that I can do it physically. I have been cleared medically, however the XFL ultimately was the judge, jury and executioner as far as that verdict.

You received an artificial disc as opposed to fusion in which you have described the artificial disc as the future. Any regrets in choosing to go that route or do you stand by the procedure you received, and this is simply a hiccup in the process to you getting back on the field the more people educate themselves on this procedure?

Garrett Hartley: Absolutely, I stand by my decision. Artificial disc is the new age fusion. And for the candidates who are able, regardless if you play sports, if you just want to go about your daily life, getting an artificial disc is actually better in so many different avenues, as far as mobility, time away from work as well as not needing additional fusion in years to follow because of the adjacent joints being surrendered to the amount of immobility from the fusion.

I understand the risks that comes with even just going out to attempt extra points and field goals, but I take it the XFL isn’t in a position right now to have you on board for just those two aspects of it because they won’t medically clear you for participation.

Garrett Hartley: No! They won’t medically clear me for participation. However, I have been medically cleared by a world-renowned spine surgeon, Dr. Watkins Jr. in Marina del Ray, California. He deemed that, not only could I play the kicker position, but I can take a hit and be absolutely fine. My neck now is stronger than it ever was. Let me be clear, there is a risk any time anyone of us touches a football field. There is always the risk of a catastrophic failure when taking any hit to the head or neck region. However, it was deemed medically stable and strong enough for me to be able to participate by a world-renowned spine surgeon, and if that’s not good enough, I don’t know what is.

You were documenting the fact that you were about to sign with an XFL team, you revealed the team and then you weren’t allowed to participate. What was that moment like for you when you found out that you wouldn’t be in the league anymore?

Garrett Hartley: It was literally something that I felt was taken from me so to speak. Everything that I had worked for to get back from my surgery, to get back to be able to perform at a professional level, with all entities interwoven with that, it felt like the air was taken out of my lungs. When you want something so bad, as much as you want to breathe and to finally have the opportunity… it certainly felt like someone turned the oxygen off.

Where do you go from here, Garrett?

Garrett Hartley: I think at this point, the reassurance as far as the performance level, I have what it takes to be kicking professionally. I’m pretty sure that the injury rate in the NFL is 100%. I would love to talk to someone who thinks differently. Coming back from such an injury over the course of time, to be medically cleared to be stable, that was the last thought in my mind; especially with a new league. Venturing from an artificial disc replacement to a fusion… I think fusions are a thing of the past, but they are known and that’s what people are comfortable with. If I had gotten a fusion, I would have been deemed eligible to play.

However, having an artificial disc replacement, which is new age technology and stronger than a fusion… and I am a kicker. I do not aggressively initiate contact or physical activity on a play-by-play basis. The hits that I might take are few and far between. That being said, there are professional soccer players in Europe, which are on the cutting edge of artificial disc replacement; especially in their cervical spine. They come out and keep going with their careers. We have active deployment troops with this in their neck and still are able to go through with combat battle. You would think that I would at least be given the chance to be looked over by a surgeon from the XFL deeming me to be very capable of taking a hit. My neck is so much stronger now than it was before my surgery.

Do you think because they are a new league that they weren’t willing to take the risk as opposed to a league that’s been around for some time?

Garrett Hartley: Let me be very honest and pretentious with this comment, I believe that the XFL is on to great things. I believe there needs to be a form of system that allows more evaluation for these players. At the same time, I would like to see a union or a CBA agreement even with the XFL even though all teams are owned by the XFL. So, there is no appeal process. You have one jury, judge and executioner with their decisions. I’m not saying it’s solely based on them being new league or whatever financials that they have involved working on their medical clearance. That’s beyond my pay grade and I’m not pretending to know the answer to that. However, it does seem unfair in this form or fashion cutting me out the right to play football even though I’ve been deemed medically cleared from a world-renowned spine surgeon.

What is your ultimate goal from here?

Garrett Hartley: Ultimately, I just want everyone to know that I am obviously healthy, I have been medically cleared and I am performing at a high enough level in which I know is high enough to play professional football; whether that ends up being in the NFL or CFL because of the XFL waiving my rights. I’m going to continue my due diligence as far as training and nutrition. Ultimately, I’m going to keep pursuing my dream until all 32-teams tell me, “No!”



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