Pushed by Players, the N.F.L. Works to Embrace Mental Health

Prescott said that he is in regular contact with the Cowboys’ mental health and wellness consultant, Yolanda Bruce Brooks, as well as the team’s mental conditioning coach, Chad Bohling, and that he realized that talking to a therapist on both good days and bad helped him be consistent on and off the field.

His brother Jace died by suicide in April 2020, and Prescott has said he dealt with anxiety and depression that year, in part brought on by a contract negotiation and his recovery from season-ending ankle operations. He has publicly stressed the importance of mental health, writing “Ask4Help” on his game-day wristband to promote suicide prevention and starting FaithFightFinish, a foundation that, among other things, encourages prioritizing mental health.

N.F.L. players face the same traumas, disorders and conditions that affect the rest of the population, but they may also seek treatment or support because of challenges specific to their careers.

Thomas’s sister, Ella, died by suicide in 2018, and he was depressed for months afterward. In February 2020, he tore the labrum in one of his shoulders, and, a month later, he had surgery for a bone spur in his ankle. He recovered in time for the season, but in only his second game, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Recognizing the onset of depression after another season-ending injury, Thomas began talking to a therapist and established his own mental wellness routines, which he has maintained.

During training camp, Thomas wrote in a journal every morning. Teammates would see and ask him about it, and he’d explain his daily affirmations and talk about his mindfulness practices, encouraging them to find their own routines and rhythms. In 2020, he and his family started a nonprofit organization called The Defensive Line, which is aimed at suicide prevention, particularly among young people of color.

He is hopeful about the cultural shift he said he had witnessed within the N.F.L. “I’ve seen how sensitive locker rooms can be now, in a loving and compassionate way — guys being such good teammates and being there for each other’s families,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely more open now.”

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