There is no shortage of sources of adversity in the life of an individual, and the life of a professional athlete is no different, though those sources might vary, particularly for somebody making a six-figure annual salary. Still, there is plenty of strife associated with any career path, as Pittsburgh Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas has learned.
Entering his fourth season after originally coming into the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, Thomas finds himself in the midst of a bit of a crossroads in his NFL journey. Once penciled in to enter the starting lineup a year ago, he may find himself competing for a spot on the 53-man roster this summer.
We all know the story by now. groomed to replace Troy Polamalu when he retired, Thomas worked as the starter during the spring and summer last year, but due to his erratic play in training camp and the preseason, he was replaced by Will Allen.
He was also leapfrogged on the depth chart by Robert Golden, who started three games due to injury last year, and is projected to start this season, even after the Steelers drafted safety Sean Davis in the second round of the most recent draft.
There were “some angry moments”, Thomas said, after learning that he was essentially being benched, relegated primarily to serving as a gunner on punt coverage units. Despite the fact that his odds seem just as long now, however, Jeremy Fowler writes that he “has emerged from the last of last year, which he called ‘a depression’”.
Losing your starting job on a football team might not be the same as a demotion or even being laid off for the typical blue collar worker, but no doubt the very basic experience of a sense of failure is universal enough for anybody to relate to what Thomas might have gone through trying to keep his head right throughout last season.
Fowler writes that he “wasn’t sure if he was clinically depressed”, but if it’s a question you have to ask, it might be an answer in the affirmative. He told Fowler that his appetite suffered for weeks, and “had a difficult time shaking frustration all season”. Perhaps that partially manifested itself through his penalties on special teams.
“He came to work and didn’t say much most days”, Fowler writes, essentially describing a person dealing with depression. “He rarely smiled”. But he also hastens to add that Thomas was mad only at himself and for his sense of failure, and not at others around him, understanding that his failure was his own responsibility.
He looks back and sees some of the things that he did wrong last year, pressing to make plays and to try to replace, if not replicate, Polamalu. The future Hall of Fame safety still texts Thomas from time to time, and it helps. He also believes that Mike Tomlin’s coaching him on some of the fine details of his craft points to the fact that he still values his position on the roster.
While he may still have an inside track to make the 53-man roster, his chances of ever becoming a significant contributor seem to be slim after missing his opportunity to do so last year, with Golden and Davis now essentially ahead of him, the latter logging time in the slot. But at the very least he appears to have grown emotionally from his experiences.