Pushed by Players, the N.F.L. Works to Embrace Mental Health

Roughly 70 percent of N.F.L. players are Black, and according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2019, non-Hispanic Black adults are half as likely as their white peers to receive treatment. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association this year apologized for racial inequities in care and research.

“I think especially in the Black communities, even still in my family, people feel when you talk to someone it’s a sign of weakness,” Campbell said. “That’s something we’re still trying to break. It starts with educating our youth and empowering them, so it’s a social norm. I’ve seen other players like Dak doing similar things — it has to be a collective process for all of us.”

Like Thomas, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott learned the value of talking to a mental health professional while he was in college. During Mississippi State’s spring semester of 2014, the year after his mother, Peggy, died of cancer, the university recommended that Prescott see a psychologist.

Initially, he viewed it as a punishment, saying to the therapist: “I don’t have a problem.” Still, his mother had always been the first person he turned to when he wanted to talk. As Prescott sat in the psychologist’s office, he realized that it helped to open up.

Before the 2016 N.F.L. draft, Prescott was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (he was later acquitted in the case). The Cowboys chose him in the fourth round, and that September the N.F.L. mandated that he see a psychologist unaffiliated with the league once a week, as part of the league’s drug and alcohol program.

“I didn’t realize what it was doing for me then,” said Prescott, who helped lead Dallas to a 13-3 record in his rookie season. “But looking back, that’s why I was able to do what I did.”

Prescott said that he is in regular contact with the Cowboys’ mental health and wellness consultant, Yolanda Bruce Brooks, as well as the team’s mental conditioning coach, Chad Bohling, and that he realized that talking to a therapist on both good days and bad helped him be consistent on and off the field.


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