The Fight for Erik Kramer's Life, Part III: A new man

He isn't depressed. He isn't being abused anymore. No, Kramer is living and Kramer is more focused and determined than ever to make sure others don't live the same hell he did.

First, he was depressed. After a series of tragic events, Erik Kramer decided to take his own life. He pulled that trigger… miraculously survived… and things only got wilder. When we first launched this Go Long newsletter, months ago, Kramer was one of the first players to get right back to us. He badly wanted to share what’s happened since his 10-year career wrapped up and… wow.

What Kramer has been through is almost impossible to fathom.

Miss Part I? Catch up right here.

Part II? Read that right here.

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He’s back.

For real this time.

Erik Kramer is himself again and what a glorious feeling that is.

Of course, it wasn’t easy for all involved. There’s a reason Kramer is able to pinpoint every twist, every turn from the last five years with such laser-precision. His close friend, Anna Dergan, made a spreadsheet full of the 4,000-plus transactions and — as the former QB’s brain healed — she estimates they went over every single of those transactions 20 to 25 times. Now, Kramer fully grasps everything that transpired with Cortney Baird.

Getting his reputation back has been tough, too. The first time we chatted, months ago, it sure felt like justice wasn’t anywhere near. As that conversation turned darker (and darker) and the abyss somehow only got deeper (and deeper) and you tried rationalizing that, sure, Kramer lost $700,000 but there’s no price he could put on his freedom and a healthy brain and… no.

Kramer wasn’t in the mood for moral victories, wasn’t at peace.

“One thing I don’t have back is my reputation,” he said then. “If you pull up ‘Erik Kramer’ on the Internet, the first thing that pops up is ‘domestic violence.’ Even though that case was dropped, it didn’t get dropped because Cortney said, ‘You know what, everybody across the country? I’m a liar. I made all of this up. I completely lied about it.’ It got dropped because she got arrested. That’s it.”

The charge hung over Kramer’s head like another dark cloud for a while. When he tried resetting his life, it seemed like those who didn’t know him typed his name in on Google and immediately sprinted the other direction. Kramer thought he had an in at nearby Agoura High School. Then, sure enough, he was told he wasn’t a “good fit.”

“Something that never happened,” Kramer said then, “is now haunting me.”

Yet, as time passes, life only gets better. And better. And for the first time in what feels like forever, Erik Kramer is overwhelmed with a new sensation: Optimism. He isn’t depressed anymore — not one iota. He knows his reputation will only strengthen the more people learn exactly what he’s been through, from losing his son to trying to take his own life to, above all, being exploited when he was in that mental fog. Kramer recently scored a coaching job, too. Just recently, he was named the offensive coordinator at Chatsworth, a charter high school outside of Los Angeles. How he got this job makes Kramer feel like the tide is finally turning on his life, too.

The school’s head coach Marvin Street was actually set to hire someone else who decided to take a different job.

Kramer became his top target and Kramer pounced. He loves the fact that this is a program in need of rehabilitating, too. That’s something he’s far too familiar with.

When we caught up last Thursday, Kramer’s spirits were soaring.

“From here on,” Kramer says, “everything happening in life, football or outside of football, is all moving in the right direction. All of it. I don’t know if I ever felt what’s going on currently and what’s going to be going on five, 10 years from now, is all moving in one direction. And that’s up.”

No wonder Kramer doesn’t necessarily like the word, “fight.”

This doesn’t feel like a fight anymore because that implies he’s on a reckless warpath for vindication. Kramer has more so reached a state of calm and clarity and purpose he’s never felt before. He’s not poisoned by suicidal thoughts or sadness to any degree. He wakes up in the morning — often as early as 2 a.m. — genuinely excited for what that day has in store.

There’s coaching. There’s a podcast that allows him to keep talking football.

He got tickets to this year’s Super Bowl in LA and became a Chargers season ticketholder. That was his last NFL team, after all.

Dergan sees a man with absolutely “zero depression.”

Zero,” she says. “There’s no thoughts of anything. He’s not depressed. Even when things go bad, it doesn’t bring him down. It’s just, ‘OK, we’ve gotta work a little harder to get where we need to go.’ Because it makes you stronger. It makes you work harder.”

What’s making him work harder than ever — his No. 1 passion now — is doing everything in his power to make sure others aren’t ensnared in the same hell he was.

He’s confident that Baird will pay in court. There’s far too much indisputable proof. And when she is convicted, it’s time for restitution. Kramer cannot wait for his opportunity to share every last detail with a judge. It’s his understanding that the more money Baird pays back, the less jail time she’ll receive.

Again, she’s been charged with 12 felonies and faces up to 14 years.

The system must change.

Kramer knows firsthand just how screwed up this country’s conservatorship laws are — they can victimize anyone. Not just a former NFL quarterback who shot himself in the head. The grips of bureaucracy can strangle anyone it should be protecting. Anyone dealing with a brain injury or ailment can become vulnerable to future Bairds.

Old age. Dementia. A car accident. Brain aneurysms. Kramer lists off all the ways you can inherently become someone else.

In some cases, like his, the brain trauma is temporary.

In other cases, it can be permanent.

“You could die penniless,” he say, “and you’ll be removed from anyone who was anybody in your life. Including wives, kids.”

So as pissed as Kramer is with Baird, the more his mind cleared up, the more his attention turned toward the legal system.

There was Kramer’s own lawyer arguing against him being conserved despite a detective testifying that the woman sitting right there went on the record to stealing $50,000. Court cases kept getting extended. Legal fees kept adding up. It can feel like these lawyers allegedly going to battle in a courtroom are actually conniving in a back room to ensure they each get every last penny they possibly can.

Kramer be damned. Justice be damned.

Belle Chen’s error alone as the DA is unforgivable. That marriage certificate should’ve never been taken seriously.

Hearing… to hearing… to hearing… Kramer was still having his brain treated.

“Which tells everybody in the world,” Kramer says, “my mind’s not right.”

Then, there was the criminal defense attorney Kramer hired before those domestic charges were dropped.

Kramer told this man everything because, by this point, his brain was healing. After Kramer explicitly told him that he did not want to accept any deal that included counseling for something “that didn’t happen” — and the lawyer responded, “OK, OK” — he met with the district attorney, the judge and cut a deal anyway. He essentially admitted Kramer’s guilt in agreeing to 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling and 18 months of psychotherapy.

“He saw the same vulnerabilities that Cortney saw,” Kramer says. “So, he just decided what he wanted. And he steered into that lane.”

Now, Kramer can tell the truth for all to hear.

He knows how easy it is for someone without mental capacity to be abused and wants to see institutional change to conservatorship in this country.

Before it’s too late for people.

One former teammate Kramer speaks with regularly is currently struggling with dementia, a “prime candidate” for another money-hungry predator. This is a sport that can leave its combatants with debilitating CTE, thus Kramer knows retired players with a little money in the bank are particularly susceptible. The CTE horror stories are common now. Too common. We often hear all about the struggles wives and sons and friends go through day-to-day with a former NFL player in his 60s or 70s, a player whose brain has rendered him a completely different person.

What we don’t hear about are those ex-players who may be getting financially abused.

Those players may not have a Dergan pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this all.

Those players may not suddenly wake up like Kramer did when he put that bid in on a house and knew he needed a divorce.

Those players may never have a chance to reach this state of hope Kramer’s in right now.

So, he believes the NFL and NFLPA should enter the discussion ASAP.

“I would like to see what’s never been done before,” Kramer says, “and that’s the NFL getting involved and using some of their political clout — at this exact time, in fact — to start to pull in the doctors of the world, the neuropsychologists, who really should be the leaders in this. They’re kind of an afterthought. The lawyers have jumped in and smelled chum in the water and they’re the ones who care all about the money. The doctors are the ones who care about the patient.

“This legal system will chew you up. All of their former players are heading in that direction and they may or may not know it. I doubt they do.”

At least it appears the NFL cares about head injuries now. Rules change, to the extreme. Millions upon millions of dollars are poured into the science behind making the game safer, especially with the helmets themselves.

The last thing Roger Goodell will do is stand in front of a microphone and declare that you will suffer concussions playing football — that’s bad for business — but the league’s actions since the groundbreaking League of Denial suggest they know full well that this is the case, that this is the most violent sport on the planet and players are only getting bigger, stronger, faster.

Head injuries are guaranteed in this sport.

There probably isn’t a day that goes by that the commish doesn’t think about selling the game’s safety.

“Yet,” Kramer says, “you’re going to do nothing when it comes to people going down this rabbit hole of getting financially abused by a legal system. You better get involved.”

Still, Kramer also knows there’s a chance the NFL is simply unaware that dependent adult abuse is such a threat. If Goodell or any of the 32 owners are unaware or uneducated on this all, he’d love to chat.

To Dergan, real change is not too complicated. She sees a very simple solution.

If there’s an ongoing police investigation, she explains, the “conservatee” should be automatically conserved until the investigation is finished.

“Both the person and the estate,” Dergan says. “That way, it would prevent someone who has dementia or anything like that from running off and getting married. Giving someone access to their bank accounts and depleting it. Believe it or not, we’re the lone wolves in this. Because all of the other people in this forum say, ‘No, no, no, no. That should be law enforcement.’ By the time law enforcement catches up, that person could be completely wiped out clean. Let’s use common sense here, people. If Erik’s case is not the proof of it, I don’t know what else is. Law enforcement was doing their job. But the DA has a say on this.

“So, we’re lone wolves. Everyone’s trying to protect their civil liberties and bullshit like that. We’re just saying: ‘Protect the person.’ Because if they don’t have any money left, they won’t have any civil liberties left.”

Kramer is OK financially today. Still, $700,000 is $700,000 and this could’ve dragged on for an eternity. It’s not like the police woke up one day and decided to arrest Baird. If his brain trauma continued? If he was stuck in this sham marriage? Kramer believes Baird would still be siphoning money. That future victim with dementia won’t be so lucky. To Kramer, it’s also extremely crucial for the medical opinions of people like Dr. Tomaszewski to instantly enter the courtroom and be taken seriously.

Because that’s the thing with the brain. You don’t necessarily see what’s wrong with someone.

It was not like Kramer walked into a courtroom and everyone could see just how drastically that bullet changed his life.

That’s why some close to Kramer joke that, hey, maybe he shouldn’t have had that surgery to fix his severed head. If he carried on in a deformed state, at least everyone clearly would’ve understood what that stay at the Good Night Inn did to him.

“They would’ve visually seen it,” Kramer says.

He knows a doctor’s raw evaluation — taken much more seriously — can bring real change, too.

As for Kramer, he’s embracing every day. That dark cloud over his head sending him into that pit of sadness is long gone.

He’s being a Dad. He’s coaching. While he hates living with any regrets, there are days Kramer cannot believe he didn’t take Dillon’s future without a Dad into account back in 2015. That’s one thought he cannot shake.

He’s truly “grateful” to be alive. To get this second chance.

Now that he has his life back, Kramer will not waste it.

He’ll make sure his son, Dillon, knows he loves him, too.

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