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The Mental and Emotional Stresses of an NFL Athlete

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Jovan Belcher as I knew him was a good and decent man. I can't say I knew him well enough to say we were friends, but I've met him and spoken to him as college opponents when he played at the University of Maine. Belcher was also a Long Island native from West Babylon and I looked up to him because he was one of the few Long Island football players that went on to play Division I Football. After playing defensive end at Maine and being a successful CAA football player he went on to live "The Dream." The dream of making it to the NFL, a dream that almost every high school and college football player holds. He was undrafted and was able to successfully change positions and make a career out of being an NFL linebacker. Jovan was also fortunate enough to make it to a second contract, which is a milestone an even smaller number of NFL athletes make it to. He also excelled in his personal life having a beautiful girlfriend by the name of Kassandra Perkins and newly born infant daughter. Most up and coming college players wish to live the life Jovan led, and on the outside looking in his life was perfection to most. The issue is most don't understand the stresses of being an NFL athlete.

The morning of December 1, 2012 that seemingly perfect life came to a crashing end. As many are aware of, Jovan Belcher ended the life of his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins and then took his own life in front of the Kansas City Chiefs facility. Two team officials who I know very well witnessed his death, General Manager Scott Pioli and Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Both men who are spiritual family men are now scarred by these events and have to live with the memory of December 1 for the rest of their lives.

Jovan's actions were heinous but at the same time uncharacteristic of the man who everyone knew him as. Now everyone is trying to figure out what happened. What caused a seemingly happy and sane man to lash out and take the life of a loved one and his own, affecting the life of family, friends, teammates and the most of all his 3-month-old daughter? I am the first one to admit that I have no idea the reasoning, but this event and the recent suicides of Junior Seau and O.J Murdock begs the question what mental stresses do NFL players face.

The profession of being an NFL player faces highs and lows unlike any other career. A player can go from being a first round draft pick or winning the Super Bowl to out of a job and in debt in the blink of an eye. From the moment college players' careers come to an end they face an enormous amount of scrutiny about every aspect of their lives on and off the field. They constantly have to change and mold themselves into what an NFL scout or representative wants. It applies constant pressure on an athlete who is going into a profession with little to no job security. To live up to lofty expectations on a daily basis to appease men who are constantly trying to replace you is a stressful lifestyle. Even after reaching the dream and making it to the NFL, it is a relentless struggle to stay in the league. Everyday NFL players fear injury, demotion, termination and not being able to provide for family and sustain the life the salary of the NFL affords. Speaking of salary, the money being made in the NFL is a complete source of stress in itself. When family, friends and even strangers are persistent in their attempts to receive money that can wear on anyone, especially someone who is in a high stress line of work. All of these stress factors can ultimately create mental instability in some cases.

NFL athletes are human too and aren't immune to stress and the results of it. Stress pushes people over the edge in many cases and different people cope in different ways. Some people find refuge in family and friends, some people have outlets in material things and others don't know how to deal with their stress. The nature of the NFL doesn't allow athletes to show weakness or injury physically and definitely not mentally. Your physical well-being is your ticket in this game and once that is compromised your ability to earn money in this game is severely threatened. Naturally your mental well-being is heavily neglected. We don't concentrate on what is going on with us mentally and emotionally because that isn't conducive to our jobs. Also if that type of weakness gets out we are known as a risk because our full attention isn't on the game and many see that emotional distress is something that can't be as easily rehabbed as a sprained ankle or a broken bone. We as NFL athletes need to do a better job communicating our feelings to our loved ones and sharing with them our problems that may prevent an issue like what took place December 1.

Many feel our masculinity takes a hit when conversation of feelings and emotions take place but it is a necessity as a healthy human being to be able to vent. NFL athletes face a unique set of stresses that might require even more dialogue amongst the people we care about. That fear of transparency has to end to live an improved life emotionally and mentally that can ultimately aid in physical health. It is understood we may not be able to open up at work, but there has to be a level of understanding when an athlete is under this type of pressure some may respond in a negative way. He will need the support of his teammates and coaches to mitigate the chances of a terrible outcome. A culture of transparency needs to be built and a support system can help solve many ills that are seen in the world of professional athletics. I hope we can all learn a lesson from this tragedy and understand that telling someone you care and giving them a hug can save a life.

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