ESPN Football Analyst; Former Football Player & Cancer Survivor, Author of Find a Way and Brainwashed
Find. A. Way.
Merril Hoge has proven that those three, simple words can be the most powerful words in the English language. Merril’s Find-A-Way philosophy helped him achieve his dream of becoming an NFL powerhouse and would later help him fight to live as he struggled to overcome cancer, open-heart surgery, and family tragedy.
As a speaker since 2005, Merril has taken the stage to deliver his message to hundreds of associations corporate audiences, such as Highmark Insurance, Equifax, and Verizon Wireless. He uses the tenacity of that simple phrase to help people realize their gifts and uncover the tools they need to find their way.
In 2018, with the national discussion on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) at its peak, Merril released Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Plot to Destroy Football. He collaborated on the project with board-certified forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Peter Cummings, to take an unbiased look at the facts surrounding this misunderstood pattern. Together, they conducted a provocative examination of the science, as well as the hysteria around CTE and how it is being manipulated to serve an agenda.
Merril’s first book, Find a Way: Three Words That Changed My Life, was released in 2010. It is a moving memoir in which he shares the simple philosophy that guides him to this day and has enabled him to overcome obstacles throughout his life.
NFL Football: The dream
Merril Hoge graduated from Idaho State University in 1987. As a four-year starter, he held 11 of the school’s football records, including single-season and career marks for rushing attempts, rushing yards, and all-purpose yards. Merril also scored 44 ISU touchdowns, a Big Sky Conference record, and still holds the record for the most receptions by an Idaho State running back (182).
After graduation, Merril achieved his dream of playing in the NFL, starting a successful eight-year run with the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a Steeler (1987-1993), Merril set the team record for most receptions by a running back (50 in 1988) and was one of only two Steelers to rush for more than 100 yards in back-to-back playoff games. After signing a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears, a series of concussions forced him into early retirement in 1995. By the end of his career, Merril had played in 122 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL at that time.
Broadcasting: The Second Career
Always one to find a way, the former NFL running back has transformed himself into a successful analyst for ESPN for 21 years:
- Appears regularly on NFL Matchup, the network’s longest running show
- Host of Fantasy Football for the show’s launch
- Routinely offers his analysis on shows like NFL Live and NFL PrimeTime
- A regular guest on LIVE SportsCenter over many years
Merril continues to provide analysis to ESPN’s annual Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage and is a regular voice on ESPN Radio and ESPN.com. He also served as a game analyst and sideline reporter on ESPN2 for its college football coverage and made his way to the telecast booth to call games for the Arena Football League.
Overcoming Challenges: Creating Victories
In 2003, Merril was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he fought – and beat – using the same resolve he demonstrated on the football field. He received the Chairman’s Advocacy Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2004 and 2008 for his outstanding participation in driving awareness for LLS and its mission.
His doctors told Merril in the fall of 2015 that he was suffering from an enlarged aorta and would need to undergo open-heart surgery. That experience and the awareness he gained led to his on-going partnership with the American Heart Association in helping deliver their “Lifestyles for a Healthy Heart” message.
CTE: Common-Sense Advocacy
In the years since his career-ending head trauma, Merril has championed concussion research, resisted the hysteria surrounding the disease, and become an informed advocate in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries.
- 2009: Testified at a congressional hearing on football head injuries, challenging legislators to institute a head-trauma protocol for players ages 8-18
- 2010: Appointed in 2010 to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management
- 2010: Named to the board of directors for USA Football, the sport’s national governing body on youth and amateur levels
- 2011: Invited by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to serve on the NFL’s Return-to-Play Subcommittee which deals with head, neck, and spine cases
- 2011: Met with senior officials at the Pentagon to discuss the military’s tough-guy culture and instilling the benefits of leaders suffering a concussive head injury to voluntarily remove themselves from a situation as the best course of action for the troops under their command
- 2011: Participated in the NFL-USO Tour to Afghanistan with Matt Millen and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, visiting troops overseas
- 2012: Helped launch Heads-up Football with USA Football
- 2014: Became an active part of the USA Football Advisory Committee
Refocused Efforts: New Frontiers
To help bring the focus back to football, Merril also worked with the NFL in developing its “Way to Play” program to celebrate athletes who play the game right. Throughout the season, the spotlight falls on players doing things well, with a weekly “Way to Play” winner who awards the $2,500 prize to their selected charity. Season winners receive the honor of being named to the Lott/Madden team during Pre-Superbowl week.
Merril’s life-long love of the game also helped launch a new kind of league in 2018—Your Call Football. YCD blends football and app technology enabling fans to call the play in real time. As head coach, Merrill took his team Power to 4-0 in the league’s inaugural season.
Helping Others: The Goal
As a believer in helping your community, Merrill serves as Chairman and a member of the board of the Highmark Caring Foundation. The group helps grieving children, adolescents and the families who lost loved ones and is particularly meaningful to Merril, who lost his mother when he was just 21 years old. There are currently four centers in Pennsylvania, in Erie, Harrisburg, and two in Pittsburgh.
With the Chuck Noll Hall of Fame Game for Life award, Merril was instrumental in developing a program that recognizes the youth football community in each state. Since 2017, the program, together with business partners Dicks, Riddell, and USA Football, has awarded recipients over $150,000.
Merril also joined forces with Hall of Famers John Madden and Ronnie Lott to help launch The NFL’s Way to Play program, spotlighting great ambassadors of the game. Each week throughout the season, one player is recognized for excellence in playing the game with skill and integrity and is awarded $2,500 to donate to any football program of his choice, along with a letter from the NFL commissioner.