I spent the early part of Thursday in the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue in New York, reporting on the league’s Total Wellness initiative. You saw a bunch of this on Twitter. The goal was to discuss the league’s plan to promote comprehensive health and assist anyone under its auspices who wants helps.
There is now a new 24/7 confidential phone number, for instance, for players, former players, their families, staffers and whoever else to call and discuss their problems. This is its website with some testimonials.
I get the sense the league isn’t done providing such resources. But today’s deal was for physical and mental health, family safety, and post-career living.
I talked to several of the key figures, including the league’s mental health adviser Dr. David Satcher, VP of player engagement Troy Vincent, and VP of HR and chief diversity officer Robert Gulliver. I also heard Commissioner Roger Goodell speak to a room full of people who helped make it happen.
Want some highlights?
Goodell, on why the league is putting such a program in place: “Our approach of total wellness and our approach of looking at players and our families not just from a physical standpoint but also a mental health standpoint is the right approach. It will serve our players well, not only former player but our current players — and quite frankly — our future players. We believe in the programs that have been initiated and the programs we are initiating today, and we are committed to improving every one of those program, to continue to evolve and continue to find new ways of addressing whatever the current issues are that can help our players transition through life and make it more productive for them.”
Satcher, on why the program will benefit retired players: “I think today’s initiative is one that will tremendously benefit retired players and families. When we talk about transitions and the challenges that transitions represent in terms of mental health, we all have it. We all have it, and I think retired players seem to go through a lot of changes, and to have the opportunity and to be motivated to reach out, to talk about what they’re going through with others is something that can be very helpful. I think today’s meeting is the beginning of something that could really make a difference…. Roger’s leadership will help with that.“
Satcher, on whether retired players will really be willing to make the call: “The answer is yes and no. There are some that will readily take advantage of the opportunity just by knowing it’s there. There are others who will need more motivation. Part of what we do is, we travel across the country and meet with former players and their spouses and we talk to community. We’re trying to get people to be much more comfortable dealing with mental health issues. I think people need to come together as a community. Stigma is a community issue. And to the extent that you can reduce stigma, individuals and families can benefit tremendously.”
Gulliver, on who else is eligible for the program: “This program is intended to help the entire NFL family. So the launch of the NFL life line, our current players, retired players, their family, folks at the league office, folks at clubs have the ability to access the NFL life line for any mental health issue that they need somebody on the other end of the line to talk through. So, we’re really excited that this is a service that affects the entire NFL family.”
Vincent, on whether players will use it: “We hope so. That’s our objective. We are providing resources. This is an area that we want to hit head-on. It’s an area that we want to dispute myths. We want to break down the walls of stigma that’s associated with mental health. Suicide is not an option. There are many levels of mental health we’d like to address. It’s a challenge when we look at the nature of the athlete, a prideful individual, that no one wants to show a sign of weakness. The stigma that mental health and you having mental issues is a weakness. That’s a stigma that we want to dispel, that’s a myth we want to defeat, that you’re not immune to the things that plague the greater society.”
Vincent, on the important of dispelling myths: “That’s our plan. We want as a National Football League to become active participants in fighting mental health issues, dispelling myths in mental health, we want to be an active participant. Will the National Football League save all? No. But along with the men and women and the organizations we’ve partnered with, in this particular thing, national leaders in the area of mental, we believe that we can move the chains.“