Earlier this month, the NFL and NFLPA jointly announced a couple of new health and wellness initiatives focused on the wellbeing of the players who play the game. The vast bulk of the attention regarding the entire setup was something of a throwaway line that acknowledged that the league would be considering, among many other options, the use of medicinal marijuana for players to treat their pain management issues.
That was far from the full scope of what these new initiatives represent though, and there are some pretty significant things not being discussed. One of them comes from the newly-established health and wellness committee, which will require teams to “hire a behavioral health clinician whose job will be to coordinate mental health care for players and who will be required to spend ‘at least 8-12 hours per week’ at the team facility”.
In other words, teams are going to be required to basically have a team psychiatrist, or something to that effect. Now, there are some teams who actually do already employ a psychiatrist of some kind to which their players have access, but this is not currently a widespread practice around the league, and it tends to be among teams with younger head coaches or management.
“I think there’s been an increased recognition in the sports medicine community over the past couple of years of how important behavioral and mental health issues are today, especially with young people”, said Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer.
The team-specific mental health professionals “will be in charge of coordinating treatment programs specific to individual player needs”, though they will also still have the fully opportunity to seek outside treatment, with a “point person” with their organization who can assist them as needed.
This is a topic that former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant recently raised. The 2014 draft pick has been suspended three times for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and is currently serving his second indefinite suspension.
With news regarding his intention to apply for an appeal soon, he argued that the league does not do enough to provide players with the mental health resources that would best allow them to return to the game.
There was some debate as to whose responsibility this is when I wrote about that topic, but the bottom line is that it is in the league’s own best interest to return these players to the field. It’s not good for them for their on-field product or for their public relations to make headlines about players being suspended, and then follow-ups about how their lives went off the rails afterward.
So regardless of who should be responsible for what, it is a good thing for the NFL itself to provide such services and make them available to players. Presumably, with the formation of the health and wellness committee and the introduction of these team mental health professionals, they see it the same way that I do.