San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas recently interviewed on a media tour in New York City with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is continuing to elevate the conversation around mental health. The NFL is encouraging players to speak out more about any mental health-related issues. I understand it’s not for everyone, but we’re going to try and cover the topic periodically through the season as well.
Thomas has taken significant steps in becoming a mental health advocate. “I realized what I can say can help other people, or really help myself, or get a conversation started,” Thomas said. If you recall, Marquise Goodwin and his wife, Morgan, went through the grief of losing twin baby boys 19 weeks into her pregnancy. You can’t even pretend to imagine the type of pain they endured. The team has shown great support to both. General Manager John Lynch reached out to Thomas for help.
“He could kind of tell, I was probably putting a mask on in front of my teammates. That was really helpful, really powerful for me, to have John reach out to me like that and help me continue to get mentally healthy and to continue my walk through my grief process.”
The fact that Lynch acknowledged Thomas went a long way.
The article continues to talk about how men are less likely to seek out mental health resources than women. Then when you get into how players are even more reserved because of the nature of the NFL. It’s a business, and you can be traded or cut at any time. Thomas chimed in about that as well:
“Guys are fighting for their job every day. So they don’t want to have anything seen as a disadvantage or a reason to not be the one chosen. ‘Oh, both of them have the same amount of yards and TDs, but he has mental health problems.’ That’s scary to some guys, I guess. But, it’s something that needs to change.”
The point of this isn’t to come off as a “woe is me.” It makes you aware of the different trains of thoughts some of these athletes have.
The 49ers have done a fantastic job of incorporating different types of sessions and activities to help players focus on the mental part of the game. During OTAs this past spring, Kyle Shanahan brought in a group of Navy SEALs for a training session to focus on the mental side of the game. They had a team-wide discussion on how to cope with stress. Thomas talked about that experience:
“If our brain’s not working, our bodies aren’t going to work. I said one way I dealt with that was through therapy, and so I hope that motivates guys … Just trying to let them know that nothing’s wrong with it—it’s a good thing, it’s for help. If guys do it more openly, and the culture of mental health changes in the NFL, I think that is going to change a lot. Because we are a very masculine, tough sport. If we start that change, it will echo throughout the whole league and society as well.”
I’m not sure if this is the first year the Niners have opened up to this degree about mental health and bringing the team together, but it could lead to the type of camaraderie the team needs to take the next step — both on and off the field.