Carey half a continent away when Buffalo Bills safety Dumar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field during the “Monday Night Football” game in Cincinnati on January 2. Hastings understood what she needed to do and figured it out quickly. .
“We had a few players that we knew right away that they needed to check in,” said Hastings, a sports psychologist and mental health clinician with the Los Angeles Rams. “Spousal couples and significant others too.”
It was a result of her six seasons at the club that Hastings became familiar with the Rams staff and the player could be emotionally traumatized after seeing Hamlin’s shocking medical emergency. A regular presence at the Rams facility.
Across the NFL, such continuity of care does not exist. I’m here.
It was over three years ago in 2019 that the NFL implemented a formal program to manage the mental health needs of its employees. Brought as part of a collective bargaining agreement. Among other things, the agreement requires each team to be staffed by a licensed behavioral problem clinician.
However, individual franchises have greater latitude in implementing the Directive. Some have full-time sports psychologists. Some companies hire clinicians on a part-time basis, while others contract outside medical providers to make them available to players, Hastings said. Also, clinicians do not need to have a sports background. Some sports psychologists see this as a serious flaw.
“It’s a very specialized field,” said Sam Mania, a psychologist who served as an advisor to the Cleveland Browns and previously worked as the team’s full-time clinician. , especially at the highest level, requires specialization, and not all clinicians who attend the NFL have it.”
Hastings was a sprinter and hurdler during his undergraduate years at the University of Notre Dame, has deep professional experience with athletes, and is listed on the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Register of Sports Psychology and Mental Training. She continues to practice privately a short drive from the Rams’ training facility in Agoura Hills, northwest of Los Angeles, and although she’s technically a part-time employee, Hastings said she works out a week. She said she was at the facility three or four times and basically worked on-call. During the season she is available 24/7. “
In that capacity, Hastings has worked to build a foundation of trust with elite athletes who often think of sports psychologists only in terms of preparing them for competition.
“Athletes often come in for something performance-related, and that opens the door to conversations in other areas of mental health,” she said.
According to clinicians, some athletes in particular are starting to talk more openly about the mental and emotional challenges they face, indirectly encouraging them to be more open to asking their peers for help. I’m here.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka, Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, and NBA stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have all publicly discussed mental health challenges over the past decade. rice field. Maniar, who runs his athletic performance center in Ohio and works with college and high school football teams beyond his relationship with college and high school football teams, said: increase. browns.
The NFL is a difficult area for such conversations. League players are accustomed to treating pain and injury of all kinds as practical conditions of work, and for most of the League’s existence, its athletes have been trained to show no inherent vulnerability. rice field.
The implementation of the league-wide program, while an important milestone, did not fundamentally accelerate the pace of change. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the New York Times two seasons ago: “There’s a bias in talking about emotions, struggles, and coping with stress. There’s a lot of jargon that seems to tag it as a weakness.”
Players unions have become more proactive in tackling this issue. “NFL players are often seen as the pinnacle of masculinity. Historically, caring for one’s own mental health and seeking support has not been associated with masculinity, so many of us have seen aspects of health. Tretter, an eight-year NFL veteran, urged players in a 2021 blog post to take advantage of available resources.
Hamlin’s highly unusual emergency requiring on-field CPR before being rushed to the hospital from Cincinnati Stadium, where the Bills and Bengals were playing, “really caused anxiety for some players and caused others. ‘ said Hastings. In addition to reaching out to a few players individually, she sent a message across the Rams organization to remind athletes, coaches and staff that they can speak.
“A lot of them were receptive,” Hastings said. “An elephant in the room is death. Players know they can get hurt, and we’ve all dealt with injuries, but there were elements out of our control.”
The Bills and Cincinnati Bengals players were stunned and silent as Hamlin lay on the field. Days later, the Buffalo players were still struggling to articulate their feelings. “It’s hard to describe how me and my teammates felt in that moment. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Dr. Joshua Norman, a sports psychiatrist at Ohio State University who often works with athletes’ emotional processing, said that Hamlin’s subsequent progress, including his discharge from the hospital and his recovery at home, was “something that athletes have received. It will help alleviate some of the trauma that I experienced.” “But even as they try to compartmentalize things, these players are witnessing serious injuries. Some of them will have a strong reaction.”
Dr. Claudia Reardon, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, said the term “vicarious trauma” applies in this case. “Even though the initial traumatic event did not happen personally, witnessing it or learning about it is experienced as trauma,” Reardon said. Ranging from feelings to nightmares and flashbacks, some athletes try to avoid “people, places, or things that remind them of the trauma they witnessed.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some players retire early,” Manier said. It’s a surefire way to get injured in a sport like football, and this is a league without contract guarantees. It means it won’t last.” Players are feeling that pressure.”
According to clinicians, the NFL’s greatest opportunity to significantly expand mental health coverage may come from the simple fact that the NFL is continually drafting and developing new talent. “Younger generations are just more sophisticated when it comes to mental health,” Norman said. They are more open to the idea of dealing with mental health.”
Work continues within the franchise complex. Both Hastings and Mania were hired by NFL teams years before the league made clinicians mandated, and he’s moved away from practice facilities for players who don’t like watching them perform. I had an office. But recently, Hastings said that’s changing, too.
“Players are talking to each other more and more about these kinds of issues, and they’re talking very openly,” she said. “In many ways, since I took office in 2017, we have built a mental health protocol.” In the NFL, we are seeing slow change.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. KHN is one of the three main operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), along with policy analysis and polls. KFF is a donated non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the public.