Fort Worth

‘Dark days’ of unemployment ‘scary’ for ex-NFL player in Fort Worth

Lynn Madsen’s professional football career started with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, owned by Donald Trump, who Madsen said “helped me get my first car loan.”

Madsen played for the now-defunct Generals in 1984 and ’85 before joining the Houston Oilers in 1986. A defensive lineman, he played one year with Houston before an injury ended his NFL dream.

His football career pretty much mirrors his life, which has been a series of highs and lows and he’s currently riding a low — as a homeless 56-year-old man in the Fort Worth area.

He came to North Texas this summer on the advice of friend, who lives in Mansfield.

Gainful employment has eluded him, Madsen said.

“I’m feeling the same kind of desperation that made Europeans cross the oceans in leaky boats for the land of opportunity,” said Madsen, who majored in history and played college football at the University of Washington. “But there have been some really dark days. I'm starting to understand the emotional muscles that you get from struggle, but it's scary. Being 56 and without a job is scary.”

Madsen met his wife, Krista, while playing with the Oilers. They had three children together and prospered. He had founded his own company, A&M Giant, which started out selling pickup truck bed liners and mud flaps.

But a year after the birth of their youngest daughter, Madsen said his wife found a lump on her breast that turned out to be malignant. She died in 2003.

“I think she always thought she would beat it or that God would heal her,” Madsen said. “I guess I thought that too. But God did she shine. And she had this special gift, she never lost a friend. We were expecting maybe 100 people to the funeral and there were 500.”

A boom, then a bust

Madsen moved his company from the San Diego area to Laurel, Neb., he said, to take advantage of incentives being offered by the state. Madsen expanded his product line and developed Giant into a specialty advertising company that sold logos, which car dealerships put on such features as floor mats.

“It took off,” Madsen said.

While his business boomed, Madsen said he focused on his children.

“I became a stay-at-home daddy,” Madsen said. “These were Krista’s daughters and they are her great legacy. I took it as the great and noble task which was set before me. I jumped in with both feet and with enthusiasm.”

But in 2008, when the auto industry crisis hit, Madsen’s company began a slow burn.

By September 2012 Madsen and Giant A&M Inc. had declared bankruptcy, according to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nebraska. Madsen’s three daughters went to live with their grandparents, he said. And the company Madsen created has been acquired by new owners who changed the name to GiantGear.

He moved back to his hometown of Vista, Calif., where he put on a suit and hit the streets, handing out resumes while standing next to a billboard that read: Salesman need job ex NFL player. His tale of misfortune was featured on a San Diego TV station.

Madsen said he got a job, quit, then started another business that failed.

He’s worked off and on for the past three years before accepting a friend’s invitation to head to Texas.

‘I want to be useful’

Employment experts say it’s difficult for people in their mid-50s to find meaningful work.

“Losing a job when you need a job is a huge issue for seniors,” said Tarrant County Commission Gary Fickes. “There's a downward spiral that many face. And some agencies there can help guide them through these issues. Its good that there are people who want to help.”

Fickes has helped organize the annual Empowering Seniors Expo, set for Oct. 7 in Bedford.

David Rawles, who leads Career Solutions, a Tarrant County-based ministry, said those in the over-50 age group often know very little about how to find a job in this market and typically have weak job search skills.

“How good would you be at something you only did once every 25 years?” Rawles asks.

For Madsen, not much has gone right since he arrived in Texas.

Madsen said he and his friend parted company in Mansfield after two months because of a difference in perspective.

Madsen, a budding videographer, said his friend believed he should obtain a survival job, so he could pay rent.

Madsen disagreed and kept producing videos, seeking to link people to his Facebook page with hopes that he can turn his avocation into a new business.

“My coach at Washington, Don James, made us believe we could do anything,” Madsen said. “Good coaches light a fire under you and great coaches make you go nuclear.”

Madsen said he wrestles with pride, arrogance and low self-esteem.

“Getting in a car and driving to Mansfield is my greatest leap,” Madsen said. “I’ve come down here to revive my business career. I don’t know that I can accomplish anything anymore but I still have hope. I want to be useful and help my kids one day.”

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3