That headline was written knowing the reaction it could be greeted with. It’s a request that’s a little Helen Lovejoy-ish, and one that asks for sweeping, mandatory action in response to a struggle that may not effect every retired player, or at least not severely enough to prompt professional attention.
But that reaction is part of the problem. The league could easily mandate a handful of appointments (let’s say two) spread over six months immediately after a player retires, giving a trained professional the opportunity to monitor their progress and adjustment to a life that doesn’t require intense physical activity and training throughout the year.
That’s my suggestion for an idea floated often over the past few months in various forms, and it’s prompted by comments from Troy Vincent yesterday. Vincent is a former defensive back who spent 15 years in the league, and is best known for his five Pro Bowl seasons with the Eagles. In retirement the 41-year-old is now the NFL’s director of player engagement, a vague title which includes creating and organizing programs that help to facilitate the transition into post-football life.
During an interview with WGR in Buffalo, Vincent spoke about the many programs that operate under his watch, several of which push players along as they pursue their next career (the broadcast boot camp, for example). But there’s one vital program that’s severely under utilized, especially following Junior Seau’s death and the bouts with depression among former players.
From Sports Radio Interviews:
“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 unutilized. We know the pressures of the sport. The pressures of family. We know the influences that are not only around the athlete, but these services as well that we provide at the club level, the league level, and also at the union level. There is some support there for the players and their families. It’s just an unutilized service that exists.”
Vincent said the lack of interest in a free service that’s readily available to recently retired players is concerning. The same stigma that still plagues the concussions issue–the stubbornness to admit that something is wrong–lingers into retirement and can also effect a players’ willingness to seek treatment for depression.
There’s a stigma that’s related to 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’re human beings. It’s a population that doesn’t view and receive resources well, especially mental health services .”
Recent comments by former players in the wake of Seau’s suicide have strongly emphasized the importance of monitoring the early stages of retirement. Terrell Owens said that he’s “felt like giving up,” and Tiki Barber described an emptiness during his first 18 months away from football that left him with only the ambition to sift through his Netflix account and watch old episodes of “Cheers.”
That’s not a life I’d wish on anyone, and the league shouldn’t either.The NFL is a rare professional sports league where common sense is typically followed, and both current and former players have endorsed mandatory counseling similar to the treatment given to military members returning to civilian life.
This should be an easy decision.