Professional athletes live lives quite different than that of everyday people. Those lives maybe privileged in some regards, desired, envied, and often revered by the masses. People are people and while some are destined for abundance and fame, others are not as fortunate. One thing is for certain each and every person in whose body courses blood and the breath of life, there is no difference. Life struggles and hardships, the stresses of life, wonderment with regards to self-worth, self-esteem, security and confidence are not immune to anyone.
It is assumed that life is grand in every way for professional athletes, most believe that living life on the pedestal of public adoration, and having no worry for money will produces the happiness in life that everyone seeks. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the only thing that fame and fortune ever provides is a sense of comfort about financial matters in one’s life. Athletes are not super human, although sometimes they are viewed as such. If cut while shaving they bleed, disappointments and failure produces questions in their minds like any other person. Their egos sit front and center as a necessity to their line of work, but also to their detriment. Problems within their lives are magnified because they live in plain view of the public eye and the public’s opinion, make no bones about it, they experience normal everyday issues but on a much more public scale.
Problematically most athlete’s self-esteem and security is wrapped up in what they do and what they accomplish, it defines them in a sense. They find acceptance and self-worth in that thing which they’ve spent the greater part of their life preparing to accomplish. The cheering and fan adulation can be intoxicating, almost addictive, but like all things, too much of anything is not good for you. Life is grand, mission accomplished, so they believe, until the cheering stops and the reality of retire looms because the body can no longer respond to the commands of the mind, or they’re replaced with the vigor and exuberance of youth necessary to compete in professional sports. The voices then begin, because for the first time in life doubt and self-questioning settles into minds that have been developed to operate in unflinching confidence. Most of the people within pro athletes inner circle, those entrust their well-being, rarely aide them in preparation for this new chapter in life. Ego and pride will never allow them to express the trepidation they face or feel, because that would show a sense of weakness, and they have been bread to never show weakness. As this new life begins to unfold who will they confide in or who will they go to for help? They attempt to solve life’s problems all alone in silence, never enlisting the guidance of those who can and want to truly help them. For the first time in some regards, they experience failure that systematically eats away at their supremely developed confidence.
A mind can be weakened in the same way it can be strengthened. Most believe that we enter this life with a measure of mental toughness; you either have it or you do not. But to a man or woman, athletes will admit that a set of circumstances occurred during their youth years that helped galvanize a tough mind set. When their playing days are over, this same mental toughness is the seat of their perpetual downfall; if it is to be, it up to me, I am the only one to fix my problems and issues. Many people have assisted them in achieving their life goal of becoming a pro athlete, but when it comes to their personal life and problems, they attempt to remedy them solely on their own, often times to the point of self- destruction. The voices they hear now are the voices of doubt, they are braving a new world in which they are ill equipped to survive or thrive in, but somehow they move forward believing that by chance things will fall into place. The truth is, “We don’t know what we don’t know, and we cannot do what we don’t know,” but they have been trained to conquer, not question. As the voices get louder, the stresses become greater all the while pressure continues to mount.
Professional football players endure added obstacles to those of most other sports. Concussions are a dangerous, debilitating and degenerative reality for a lot of players. Today there exist much more awareness about the harmful nature and long term effects of concussions. But what about those gentlemen who played the game when a concussion was looked upon as having your “bell rung”, when a player was told to “tape an aspirin on it and get back out there”or when a player out of fear for losing his job went back onto the field when he clearly was not ready? Many ex-players are suffering today and many of the issues I’ve written about here plague not only their post professional, but economic and relational lives, most importantly their mental health life. Once superman, always superman and perceived as superman in every area of life. As many former players struggle with issues, their well-being is of grave concern. Junior Seau took his own life, as did Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, there are others not listed here. Dave left a note explaining in detail the voices that plagued his mind and life, and donating his brain so that medicine would confirm what he believed drove him to suicide, Junior and Andre left no such note. We are left to ponder what demons they struggled to overcome. The big question for me is where were those who knew these guys best, was there someone who could have aided them in deciphering the voices in their heads, someone to help them overcome their post profession problems. These men were sons, fathers, brothers, friends and hero’s to many, where were the ears of compassion and understanding when they really, really needed it most? More importantly when will the NFL, NFLPA and players realize that there’s more to life than football, every player who wears an NFL uniform is forever linked and a representative of the shield, the NFLPA should be representative of all players, present and former alike? Lastly Players also have to come to the realization that help is available and there’s no weakness or vulnerability in crying out for help; someone cares. When it is a matter of health and wellness, of life and death, pride and ego must be put checked, because suicide may seem like the easy way out, but consider those who are left to suffer when a loved one takes their life, Mothers and Fathers, sons and daughters, friends and extended family members, children are supposed to bury their parents, not parents burying their kids.
In memory of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters and those who have lost their battle with voices, and those suffering now, may your death and pain not be in vain.