The Panthers are tackling mental health after their all-leading receiver revealed he battled bouts of depression during his seasons in both Carolina and Baltimore.
Steve Smith spoke out after the suicides of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade and said he was motivated by retired safety Brian Dawkins’ enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Smith also expressed feelings of being “routinely trapped, inferior and alone.”
This led the Panthers to hire therapist Tish Guerin, who is not only one of the first, but currently is believed to be the only active in-house psychological clinician in the NFL.
The move brought high praise from Nyaka NiiLampti, the director of wellness for the NFLPA, who said Carolina’s hiring of Guerin is a “game-changer,” according to ESPN.
Most teams around the league have a mental health practitioners available for players and staff, but the incensed providers are usually off-site and retained on a contract basis. However, Guerin, who was hired in September, has an office at Bank of American Stadium.
She is able to observe any changes in a player’s mood and/or behavior that could be an early warning sign and is readily available to assist players and staff at any time. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it is a step toward stressing that the mental and emotional welfare of an athlete is just as important as the physical welfare, according to the report.
Safety and activist Eric Reid is among many players to say the hire is overdue.
“It’s something that hasn’t been taken seriously long enough,” he said, via ESPN. “We’re dealing with professionals … we bang a lot. We have to lower our guard and know saying something’s wrong isn’t a bad thing. You might not have to say it (to) somebody on the team, but you need to talk to somebody.
“It’s the right thing to do, to (hire) somebody with the education and background to know what to do when somebody is going through something.”
Guerin holds the official title of director of player wellness and hopes to see a new trend among other teams.
“In terms of thinking about mental wellness and making sure our warriors we see on Sunday are talking to someone, have access to be able to get things off their chest and relieve that stress in a positive way and not a negative way, that’s imperative,” she said.
“This is something I would hope to see for all teams.”