Steve Smith Sr. says depression 'overwhelmed' him during NFL careerAugust 7, 2018
Published 4:10 p.m. UTC Aug 7, 2018
Former Panthers and Ravens wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst Steve Smith Sr. acknowledged his battle with depression in a story published to NFL.com Tuesday.
Despite playing 16 seasons and catching 1,031 passes for 14,731 yards and scoring 81 touchdowns, Smith said he constantly doubted himself and tried to suppress any public acknowledgement of what he used to see as a weakness.
“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone,” Smith wrote. “This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken.”
Smith proceeded to highlight several moments that made him realize the severity of his condition.
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He recalled Carolina’s 14-3 victory against the Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game when the Panthers offense mustered just 101 passing yards.
“I was so upset I couldn’t even get myself to hold the conference trophy,” Smith said. “We earned the opportunity to become world champions, but in that victory, I felt defeated.”
Smith said he went to counseling in 2013 for non-football related personal issues for the first time after becoming “overwhelmed” with various issues in coping with the pressure of playing in the NFL. Smith said he still goes to counselling to confront his depression.
“But now, a year and a half has passed since my last NFL game, and for the first time in my life, I finally feel free,” he wrote.
“I’ve learned through hours and hours of counseling — and am still learning — so much about the battle I fight within. I find myself, as an extreme introvert defined by my counselor, looking for excuses on how to avoid large crowds and retreating during public appearances, big events and even family gatherings. Being in public is a constant struggle, not because I don’t want to attract attention or think I’m ‘important, but because of my inner battle.”
In the post, Smith said he realized that his battle with depression was not a sign of weakness, but just a condition he would need to address and understand. Smith reflected on a question he said he asked himself many times during his playing career – “What’s wrong with me?” – and has sought to face that question through hours of counselling.
“And now I have an answer: There’s nothing wrong with me, nor is there with anyone else who suffers from depression and other mental health disorders,” Smith wrote. “All human beings have strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental. You’re defined by how you play the hand you’re dealt in life. I’ve spent the last year grieving, in a sense, the fact that I no longer am a football player — the one thing I have been my entire life. Reidentifying myself has been quite the process and learning to be OK with that even more so.
“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. You’re not alone. Believe me.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.