Among the lofty goals espoused by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his chat with Peter King of SI.com was the possibility of post-career mental health counseling for players.
Goodell said there should be. “At least an evaluation,” Goodell said. “That’s something that’s being discussed as a part of your exit physical. Part of that is mental health evaluation to see what it can be. I’ve heard that from players myself.”
It’s a great idea, and Goodell also mentioned the creation of an Ambassador Program, which uses former players to counsel current ones on other issues after they retire.
But the biggest problem with implementing such a plan may come from players themselves. As sensitive a topic as mental health still can be for the population at large, applying it to a group of athletes can be trickier.
In one of the last big stories I wrote for a newspaper, a college basketball coach admitted struggling with a diagnosis of depression.
Former NFL linebacker Dwight Hollier, now a licensed professional counselor at Southeast Psych in Charlotte, said that’s not uncommon at all.
“It’s unfortunate but it’s true, there’s still a stigma associated with depression and mental illness,” Hollier said. “There’s a macho culture. The impression we’re supposed to give off is that we’re unbreakable. . . .
“The statistics that are out there don’t always show an accurate picture, because more people are suffering than come forward. That macho persona in sports keeps a lot of people from opening up and getting help.”
Goodell echoed that sentiment, saying mental health forums for players and their spouses have been held.
“Very few players showed up,” Goodell said. “It’s the same old thing. We have a lot of individuals that have tremendous pride and they’re not always going to raise their hand and say, ‘I may need help.’ But we all need help. And we all need assistance.”