Herschel Walker Opens The Door for Us to Focus on Mental Health

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A clip from Georgia Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker’s appearance on Highly Questionable Thursday is making the internet rounds. Walker’s assertion he could still play in the NFL is getting a lot of buzz. Having seen Herschel Walker in person backstage at a Strikeforce MMA event I was covering in late 2012, I don’t doubt for a second the 1982 Heisman winner could put on the pads one more time.

However, the startling revelation that one of the greatest players in college football history played Russian Roulette “more than once” as a coping mechanism for his anger seems somewhat glossed over. Herschel Walker opened a door for a broad, deep and altogether invaluable conversation about mental health issues. Walker himself touts his work with other athletes after he overcame his issues.

What if Herschel Walker had never moved on from his struggles, though? What if one of those Russian Roulette games went wrong and a bullet was in the chamber? The college-turned-NFL-turned-MMA star would be remembered and spoken of in the pitying, hushed tones reserved for those struggling with mental health.

The ways in which our broader conversation on mental health unfold are:

– Judgement
– Awkwardness
– Total silence

In all three instances, too often we move on without contextualization.

Sports, in particular football, are not making strides. The cryptic manner in which NFL reporters attacked Nebraska star Randy Gregory leading up to and immediately following the NFL draft was shameful. For the average American who deals with anxiety or depression, as Gregory admitted he does, he/she probably sees a football star’s admission treated as an annoyance

Is that person then going to reach out to others, or suffer in silence?

Herschel Walker’s admissions need to open the discussion for those of us in sports, because sports are woven so much into the fabric of our culture. If football stars can broach these issues and it lead to real solutions — not more judgment or awkward silence — then it makes that much easier for one of the millions of Americans who have the same struggles to follow suit.