“take care y’all mentals, cuz little we ain’t lasting that long” -Marshawn Lynch
As of late mental health has become more and more of topic amongst athletes still playing as a whole and football players in particular. However there has been little to no discussion about what happens after your final whistle, after you cross the finish line (willingly or unwillingly) of your career. Our bodies are our tool, our temple, and our vehicle towards our goals but how many of us took the time to take care of our mind?
You are trained to tune out the noise: both externally from the screaming crowds to internally silencing the little voices of doubt. Those little voices become your undoing if you do not address them. Those fears, the doubt, the pain, and the obsession with perfection will all still be there when you hang your jersey up. We have all played through physical injuries and rehabbed the breaks the tears and strains after but what have you done to rehab the mental wounds that come with this lifestyle?
I struggled deeply with this loss, it felt like I had lost a part of myself when football was gone. The pain was comparable to losing a loved one, everything I had worked towards was gone. I have watched teammates and friends fall down dark holes from the loss of who they thought they were. The inherent violence and brutality of this game has left many broken bodies and fractured minds in its wake.
The biggest point I have found is to get help, you are not alone and there are other athletes and mental health professionals to ease the transition. Too often are we taught to push through anything, mental and physical pain. This mantra has created an unhealthy ego in the sports world that asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. The true strength is knowing you need help and putting your ego aside to get it.
The mindset that is conditioned into us while playing becomes a detriment when it is done. Don’t get me wrong I love the lessons that sports taught me: the drive, the determination and the sheer will to accomplish any task I set myself to. However, it would be both selfish and irresponsible of me not to talk about the cost. The image of the athlete is strong, unbreakable and without fear. A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my twitter when I found a thread by Superbowl Champion and Pro Bowler Martellus Bennett where he outlined a few of these things.
“Honestly football made me such an angry person, everything bothered me. Football is interesting. Psychologically it’s some really dangerous s**t. To really play the game of football you need to have some f****d up wiring in your head. It’s chaotic. It takes years and years of brainwashing to go along with a lot of this s**t. It starts at peewee. That’s why you gotta watch who is coaching your kids and what they’re teaching them beyond the game. We were groomed from a young age to care a little less about humans. If you’re the back up and the man in front of you go down. You get excited but feel bad at the same time…But yea football really f***ks up your mental. Integrating back into everyday society after a career continues to be a struggle for a lot of guys. The PTSD. The Identity Crisis. The pain. The other thing I’ve talked to guys [about] is no longer being part of the locker room. Understanding that a lot of people weren’t really their friend it was just the proximity that brough the closeness. Really hurts athletes. After all you’ve been through you would think y’all would be friends forever. You’ve put your body on the line for these dudes. This team. Y’all shower together. Cry together. Been around each-others kids. When you’re no longer on the team that bond can be broken quickly…The Institutionalization of sports is something that isn’t spoken about enough. Kids get funneled in and when you sign those permission slips you’re signing over their identity. Training camp is brainwashing camp… The other thing that happens is questioning if it was all worth it. When you struggle lifting up your kid. Or when your mind doesn’t work right. …more times than not most would say no when truly being honest. Athletes experience a lot of physical and mental abuse. It’s a traumatic experience. I believe guys must find a way to deal with the physical and mental trauma after they leave the game. It’s a tough balancing act during your career because the trauma is the only thing that pushes you to do it. And the moment you start addressing the trauma the foundation that everything you believed in starts to crumble. And you can’t perform on a crumbling foundation. Athletes mask their pain every day for years to be tough. Do you know how thick that mask becomes after years and years of wearing it. And what type of inner struggle it creates when it comes to communicating the pains you endure after.”
This impact is felt by all that play the game, especially the longer you are fortunate enough to play the deeper these things become ingrained. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is light at the end of the tunnel and hope in the darkness but it starts with you today. “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” -Lao Tzu. Everyone will process these emotions in their own way: some may journal, talk with a therapist or spend more time with family and friends. What first step are you going to take today in getting help on your thousand mile(or hopefully much shorter) journey?