Listening to NFL Players: On Mental Health
A new report highlights key findings from interviews with players and family members. When it comes to their careers, current and former NFL players express satisfaction – and frustrations – about their lives both on and off the field.
“Life on an Emotional Roller Coaster: NFL Players and Their Family Members’ Perspectives on Player Mental Health” covers the findings of a nearly two-year “listening tour” that gathered anecdotes and other information from NFL players and their family members about their careers.
The report was published in the September 2018 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology.
While many players expressed pride and happiness with their careers, many also reported feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and stress during and after their time on the field.
The research is based on interviews with 25 current or former players and 27 family members of current or former players, including parents and spouses. The interviewees represented a diverse range of playing eras, positions, experience levels, and racial demographics.
“Given their physical size and fitness, celebrity status and relative financial success, it is easy for people to dehumanize players and disregard the mental health challenges of playing in the NFL,” write the authors Sarah A. McGraw, Christopher R. Deubert, Holly Fernandez Lynch, Alixandra Nozzolillo, Lauren Taylor, and I. Glenn Cohen. “As a result, there is little understanding of player mental health in popular culture beyond anecdotal reports in the news media about the social and emotional lives of individual players.”
The report includes first-person testimonials from the players and their family members.
Discussing his time in professional football, one player said, “The reason it’s so lonely is we put those walls up…and nobody can know that I’m feeling concerned about my performance, that I’m insecure about this or that because football, in a sense, is ultimate meritocracy and such a manly thing that you just you always feel like you gotta be on, you know?”
Another player, reflecting on the trauma of ending his career, said, “I really believe it’s more of an emotional issue of losing your identity and some of those other things that can cause emotional trauma, more than what’s happening physically.”
The analysis also identified several barriers players face in addressing their mental health, including:
- Fear that seeking help would negatively affect their careers.
- Stigma around mental health challenges that keep players from seeking help.
- The belief that counseling would not be kept confidential and that players would be reported to management.
- High-pressure work environment rife with high stakes and constant scrutiny.
- Limited knowledge of mental health programs and other forms of assistance offered by the NFL and NFLPA.
- Inadequate time to seek and receive treatment.
The report includes additional details on mental health and NFL players, including resources provided by the clubs and the League, as well as author recommendations for improving assistance to current and former players.
Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is a research program devoted to interdisciplinary analysis and legal scholarship in these fields. The Center’s work involves public engagement, academic programs, sponsored research and independent scholarship. Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is a research program devoted to interdisciplinary analysis and legal scholarship in these fields. The Center’s work involves public engagement, academic programs, sponsored research and independent scholarship.
The Hastings Center
The Hastings Center is the world’s first bioethics research institute. Established in 1969, it is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of research scholars from multiple disciplines, including philosophy, law, political science, and education. The Hastings Center and its scholars produce books, articles, and other publications on ethical questions in medicine, science, and technology that help inform policy, practice, and public understanding.
Football Players Health Study at Harvard University
This research was initiated as part of the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University; the initiative ended its funded period as part of the study in May 2017. The research is independent and not directed by the National Football League, NFLPA, or any other stakeholder. The article’s content, findings, and conclusions are solely the responsibility of the authors, and do not represent the official views of the NFLPA, the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University or Harvard University. These entities exercise no control over the findings or recommendations.
For more information on the Law and Ethics Initiative, please see the Frequently Asked Questions from a report authored by Deubert, Cohen, and Lynch, Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis.