HBO's "State of Play" series continues next week with the first of four episodes on consecutive Tuesdays, the first titled "Happiness" and featuring Brett Favre, Tiki Barber and Wayne Chrebet.
The focus of the documentary is the often difficult transition from active athlete to retired one, not only because of physical challenges but emotional ones.
Michael Strahan, who is listed as an executive producer, reached out to the three former players, all of whom are friends of his. After the documentary, he also appears in a roundtable discussion that includes executive producer Peter Berg, former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and educator and author Shawn Achor.
Before a screening of the program Thursday in Manhattan, Strahan said he first got involved after meeting writer / director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins and producer Cristan Reilly at a beach barbecue in California several years ago.
"We started talking about athletes and life afterward, all those different things," he said. "At the time I was doing a sitcom ["Brothers" on Fox], and it was just a very interesting conversation. A year or so later, they hit me up and said, we want to have a conversation with you and your partner, Constance Schwartz, and see if we can put our companies together and do a documentary talking about athletes and players and life after the game of football and the things they go through and how they adjust and how some adjust better than others and find their own way.
"You're born into your profession, what you do, and then when that's over, you have to figure out a way to be born into something else to fill that void because you can retire but it's very hard to sit at home. Now some guys are content with doing less, but you have to find your place in life.
"And we put together some great subjects. Brett was a wild card. I know Brett, but I wasn't like his best friend. I didn't hang with him. So it was kind of like one of those calls I made after not talking to him for years and saying, hey, I know you're not talking to anybody else, I know you're not doing anything like this, but would you be interested in doing this film that I think will help players and people in general?
"But this isn't a film that just targets athletes. It's a film that targets a writer like yourself who after you retire, what's next? You going to sit home and do nothing? Everybody has to have some value or something they need to fulfill. So this film almost targets anyone who has a change or is going to go through a change. That's what appealed to me about it.
"Brett was like, wow, really amazing. And to get Wayne. Wayne really hasn't said much. He's kind of gone on with his life. Even Tiki is very candid in this film about his life then, what we thought was going to be a golden [media] career, and where he is now. Guys really opened up."
Favre is seen adapting to a new life in Mississippi, including as a high school football coach. Barber speaks frankly about the dark days that followed his failed tenure at NBC Sports and News.
Chrebet and his wife, Amy, discuss the several years that passed before he found himself anew in finance.
"Michael approached me about what he was doing and I said, yeah, sure," Chrebet said before the screening. "I actually met with them four or five times. They came to my house, they came to my work and to some doctor visits and kind of got into what life is like now and what the transition is like and they came with a great piece."
Asked how he is doing physically after a career cut short by concussions, Chrebet said, "I'm doing all right. I'm walking and talking. I'm good. I have a good life right now. Like the documentary shows, I've moved on and have a great job at Barclays.
"I've been working in the financial industry for six years. Great family. That's all that matters right now."
(What does he think of the Jets? "They're not as bad as what their record says," he said.)
Peter Berg, the executive producer overseeing the entire series, said, "We're trying to focus not on specific stories but things that are more thematic, like all the parenting in sports, like the idea of happiness of pro athletes and how depressed they all get after they retire, and a bunch of other issues. It's a fresh way of getting into that market.
"It's kind of an awesome opportunity, and we jumped at it."
Berg said the idea behind the "Happiness" episode was not to focus on brain injuries or other physical maladies.
"It's more of a practical look at OK, you're an eight-year veteran who's 30 years old or 28 years old and you played in two Super Bowls, you've been the MVP, and now it's over, it's done. You have nothing to do. You wake up in the morning and have nowhere to go and you have to take out the garbage and you're miserable and really depressed and have absolutely no idea what to do with your life.
"Whether it's Tiki Barber or Wayne or Strahan or Brett Favre, these guys have such an incredible experience and the brotherhood they have with their teammates and really the brain chemistry, the dopamine and cortisol that gets released in your brain when you're doing something you love, all that stops.
"We wanted to look at what the challenges are for these guys trying to figure out what to do a year after when nobody cares. The phone stops ringing."
For many years, HBO has been known for its several-times-a-year historical documentaries. "State of Play" is a departure from that.
Said HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, "It's not meant to replace the larger format historical docs. We're going to continue to do those. But we're trying to find a way to elevate the conversation in sports, do something that's not the typical, rapid-fire, lot of different opinions and then cut to whatever clip you're going to cut to.
"So these are kind of more thoughtful and contemporary but yet the conversation is at a very high level. It's interesting. And hopefully the fans respond to it. They're not meant to be these big, grand documentaries. These are important figures in sports talking about their lives, but talking about it in ways that most places don't have the time, don't have the energy to spend to learn and to explore.
"Pete's been great at extracting what we all want to know in a place that's different and unique."