Former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. opened up about his struggles with depression during his playing days in an essay for NFL.com on Tuesday.
Smith’s revelation comes days after Brian Dawkins delivered a powerful message about depression during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech over the weekend, which Smith alluded to early in his writing.
“It’s crucial for everyone to know that acknowledging personal struggles isn’t a sign of weakness, but one of strength,” Smith wrote. “Too often taboo, depression is shut behind closed doors — especially in a tough-guy sport like football, with a social media environment that glorifies successes and status.”
Smith writes that he first saw a sports psychologist in 2002, his second season in the league with the Panthers. Though he was still enjoying success on the field, he “couldn’t quiet the noise and negative thoughts in my mind” outside the game.
“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken,” Smith wrote.
Smith details several specific instances where he battled those issues, including following the Panthers’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game and during his final year in Carolina in 2013. That year he began seeing a counselor for non-football related matters, which he continued to do upon joining the Ravens for the last three seasons of his career.
“Generally, throughout much of my life, unhappiness, constant self-criticism and an inability to let old blunders go weighed so heavily on my mind,” Smith wrote. “I can recall hundreds of these moments, on and off the gridiron, when I felt inept. It really took a toll on my mental state.”
Smith retired after the 2016 season and said he finally feels free now that his NFL career is over. The 39-year-old amassed 1,031 catches for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns during his 16 seasons in the league.
Athletes across all sports have recently been opening up about their struggles with depression as the issue has led to the suicides of several well-known figures, which Smith also addressed.
“My advice to anyone suffering from mental health issues — and specifically athletes who can relate — is this: Ask for help. Stop trying to deal with these serious matters alone,” Smith wrote. “You’re not alone. Believe me.”
—Field Level Media