In the wake of Junior Seau’s suicide, there’s been increasing talk that NFL players need help to adjust to retirement. And it’s become increasingly clear that the problem is less about having help available to retired players than about getting players to accept the help that’s offered to them.
Troy Vincent, who played 15 NFL seasons and is now the league’s vice president of player engagement, said that retired players are informed that mental health counseling is available to them, but the vast majority of players decline.
“We have our player assistance and counsel services is not just available to players, but his family as well,” Vincent said on 550 WGR in Buffalo, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. “Each player has the option of four free clinician services of their choice and where they want it to. It doesn’t get used often. Very seldom does a player or family member reach out to just talk about hey I am not feeling well. Again, it’s a service that’s very underutilized.”
Vincent mentioned that there are little things that deter former players from seeking treatment, such as not being accustomed to the hassles involved: When you’re an active NFL player and you need any type of health care, mental or physical, you have a team medical staff ready to treat you on your schedule. When you’re retired, you have to sit in a waiting room and fill out paperwork. But the larger issue is that football players have been taught not to express feelings of weakness or sadness.
“It’s a concern of ours,” Vincent said. “In the world of professional sports and more in particular, football, you don’t want anyone to know that you are not feeling well. That’s a sign of — that’s a stigma that is related with talking about mental health and mental wellness. That’s a challenge for us. That is something we want to overcome. We want to dispel the myth that football players are not vulnerable. We are. We are human beings, but those are the things. It’s a population that doesn’t view and receive resources, in particular mental health services, well.”
For the NFL, convincing players — current and former — to seek help when they need it is a major priority. And an issue the league needs to continue to focus on, even though it won’t be easy.