Steve Smith Sr. was one of the toughest, brashest wide receivers in the league during his NFL career. But what we couldn’t see was that the former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens star was going through battles with serious depression. Smith recently opened up about the serious struggles he had with depression throughout his playing days.
Smith detailed his struggles in a column for NFL.com on Tuesday.
“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. Thinking back to when I experienced these emotions most significantly, several specific moments come to mind…
“Generally, throughout much of my life, unhappiness, constant self-criticism and an inability to let old blunders go weighed so heavily on my mind. 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.”
One of the moments Smith discussed was the Panthers’ victory over the Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game that sent Carolina through to the Super Bowl. Even in that time, Smith felt empty.
“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.”
During his career, Smith played 16 NFL seasons and hauled in 1,031 catches for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns. He was known as one of the fiercest competitors in the game and was always a leader for his teammates. Through it all, however, the pressure to perform and lead was weighing heavy.
But now that Smith is away from football, that weight has been lifted off of his shoulders.
“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 noted.
“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.”
Smith ended by speaking out against the stigma surrounding mental health issues and giving advice to anyone who may be struggling.
“There’s nothing wrong with me, nor is there with anyone else who suffers from depression and other mental health disorders,” Smith said. “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.”
You can head over to NFL.com to read the full article.
If you or anyone you know are dealing with depression, don’t be afraid to reach out for one of the national helpline numbers by dialing 1-800-273-TALK, 1-800-784-2433, or 1800-448-4663.