Ending the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health – An NFL Story

If you’re like me, then Sunday afternoons in the fall hold a special place in your heart. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, the NFL is back in full swing after what I think we can all agree was an otherwise forgettable year. Week 2 of the regular season saw some incredible plays, improbable comebacks, and one very moving display on the topic of mental health.

Those that watched last week’s Atlanta Falcons-Dallas Cowboys matchup might remember a touching moment that came shortly after the game ended. During the post-game celebration, Falcons tight-end, Hayden Hurst, ran over to Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott, to congratulate and thank the latter’s recent discussion and stance on the subject of mental health and seeking help. Earlier this month, Prescott held a presser in which he opened up about the death of his brother and his own personal bouts with depression. He revealed that his brother Jace, who died of suicide in March of this year, had been struggling with depression ever since their mother passed away from cancer in 2013, and it was something Prescott says they never talked about. He ended his discussion by encouraging everyone to open up to their loved ones about mental health.

Prescott isn’t the only NFL player to use their platform to promote change. Earlier this year, Hurst admitted he had his own struggles with anxiety and depression, which led to a suicide attempt in 2016. When the two found each other after the game, Hurst, clearly touched by Prescott’s message, told him “I’ve got a lot of respect for what you did, came out and talked about (mental health). Me and my mom have a foundation about suicide prevention. Respect the hell out of you for talking about it.” This small but powerful moment really showed that some things are bigger than sports. If you are curious about the article I read and want to learn more, you can find that here.

During the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and global quarantine and stay-at-home orders, there has never been a more crucial and important time to open up and be honest about your mental health. In an article from The New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that the effects of public health emergencies, like COVID-19, “may translate into a range of emotional reactions (such as distress or psychiatric conditions), unhealthy behaviors (such as excessive substance use), and noncompliance with public health directives (such as home confinement and vaccination)” (Pfefferbaum, 2020). As the health care sector becomes increasingly more vigilant in determining the biological factors impacting the current pandemic, it is equally important to consider the social and psychological factors affecting each of us as well. The author argues that “most Covid-19 cases will be identified and treated in health care settings by workers with little to no mental health training, it is imperative that assessment and intervention for psychosocial concerns be administered in those settings” (Pfefferbaum, 2020). In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, we need not lose sight of the importance and influence of mental health in our lives.

I applaud both Prescott and Hurst for the strides they took opening up on the topic of mental health and using their platform to deliver such an important message. Even the most casual of football fans can appreciate their bravery and passion for change. All it takes is one honest, judgement free conversation with someone you love to create long lasting change. Next time you turn on the game, I hope you remember this story and take a minute to think about mental health and have a discussion with the person sitting next to you. Just like Prescott and Hurst, I too encourage those struggling with mental health problems to seek help and advocate for ending the stigma around the subject.


Pfefferbaum, B. (2020, September 8). Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic: NEJM. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2008017.

1 comment

  1. This is probably one of my favorite blog posts. I 100% agree with you, while Sunday afternoons-evenings are the highlight of my week (unless my team or fantasy team loses) some things are truly bigger than sports. I was at B-dubs when I saw that moment occur on one of their many TV screens. It was a touching moment. Similar to this is the steps many players and teams are taking to spread their own message, often about the BLM movement. Many are putting quotes, sayings, hashtags, etc on the back of their helmets or elsewhere on their uniforms. Although it is a small gesture, it is powerful. These small steps are truly creating a change. This report: https://www.masslive.com/patriots/2020/09/nfl-black-lives-matter-coaches-allowed-to-wear-anti-racism-patches-as-part-of-inspire-change-program-report.html gives more information on the subject. Related but not quite the same, sports have been connected to improved mental health in many studies. So as challenging as it might be to step back on the field after something traumatic, it can truly help a person heal. That being said, it will be interesting to keep an eye on James White this week, since it is his first back after his recent loss of his dad.

    Jewtta, R., Sabiston, C. M., Brunet, J., O’Loghlin, E. K., Scarapicchia, T., & O’Loughlin, J. (2014). School sport participation during adolescence and mental health in early adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health. 55(5), 640-644. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.04.018

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