Hayden Hurst impacted at least one teenage boy’s life by opening up about what led him to almost taking his own.
Last May, Hurst, then with the Baltimore Ravens, was at South Hagerstown High School in Maryland — the final stop on a four-school mental health education campaign — sharing how he dealt with depression and anxiety, which began during an unsuccessful stint as a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Although he left baseball to play college football, his struggles with depression persisted, and he started drinking heavily and using drugs and, eventually, attempted suicide in January 2016, when he was playing tight end at South Carolina.
Hurst refers to it at his “come to Jesus moment.”
After Hurst shared part of his story with the South Hagerstown group, he said, a boy approached him, still in tears.
“He was pretty short in his response,” Hurst recalled, “and he was just like, ‘Hey, thank you for telling your story. I really appreciate it. It meant a lot to me.'”
A woman then stopped Hurst before he exited. It was the boy’s mother, and she explained how her son was going through the loss of his father and had attempted suicide himself.
“She said, ‘Your story really hit home with him,'” Hurst said. “I always say that to all the kids: ‘Hey, if I just affect one of you today, that’s my goal.’”
Hurst, who was drafted 25th overall by the Ravens (seven spots ahead of former teammate Lamar Jackson), was traded to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. He hasn’t played for the Falcons yet but has already made an impact by devoting much of his spare time during the coronavirus pandemic to promoting the importance of mental health treatment through appearances on The ESPN Daily podcast with Mina Kimes and ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
Four years ago, Hayden Hurst’s struggles with depression led him to nearly take his own life. Today, he tells us how he learned to stop bottling up his issues, and why he wants to help others now.
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) May 20, 2020
As May, and Mental Health Awareness Month, comes to a close, Hurst wants folks to know there is still much work to be done. According to statistics last compiled in 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 47,000 deaths by suicide occurred that year, more than twice the number of homicides. Suicide was also the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, behind only unintentional injury.
“My uncle committed suicide when I was younger, and then my cousin, as well,” Hurst said. “I understand that state of mind that you’re in. You want the hurting to go away. It just feels like this cloud of darkness is over you and the only way to make it go away is to take your life, and it will be over. You don’t think about other people in those moments. I understand depression. I’ve been there.
“Now, when things get tough, I can reflect back to that moment and just know that nothing that I’m faced with in life will ever be as hard as that was.”
‘I really didn’t understand what the hell was happening’
Hurst couldn’t cope with his depression and anxiety, at least not initially. The Jacksonville, Florida, native was picked by the Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB draft. While playing in the minor leagues, the right-handed pitcher became overwhelmed by the “yips,” a performance anxiety disorder that caused his pitches to sail uncontrollably. The guy with a mid-90s fastball suddenly couldn’t throw a strike. It turned into a three-year saga of troubles he couldn’t overcome.
“I guess that’s when it all started, because I had never really experienced failure in sports,” Hurst said of his depression. “I usually would just show up and always be better than everybody. When that [yips] started, I really didn’t understand what the hell was happening.”
The tipping point for Hurst came when he hit a Baltimore Orioles player with a pitch in a 2014 spring training game and knocked him unconscious. Hurst said he spent thousands of dollars trying to find a remedy.
“I couldn’t even play catch on a foul line like T-ballers do. I was overthrowing guys and skipping balls. I was just mortified because obviously people noticed. Guys didn’t necessarily want to be around me. I heard everything like, ‘That stuff’s contagious. I don’t want to be around this kid.’ So I was just embarrassed, and it really affected me off the field.”
Hurst tried counseling, but it didn’t solve the problem. He started binge drinking in hopes of drowning the pain. He remembered sitting alone in his dark dorm room in Bradenton, Florida, wanting nothing but to be isolated from the rest of the world.
He started experimenting with drugs, including cocaine.
“Like I said, anything I could do to kind of mask that pain and that embarrassment, I tried,” he said.
Hurst credited his former pitching coach Scott Elarton for working tirelessly with him to resolve the pitching problem. Each time they spoke, football seemed to come up. Hurst said that Elarton was the one who gave him the final nudge to leave baseball and go walk on at South Carolina to return to playing football, a game he had loved — and excelled at — in high school.
“I left Bradenton and figured I’d leave all that behind me, but the drinking and stuff still happened,” Hurst said. “Then I had my moment: I tried to commit suicide. When I woke up covered in my blood, I was just sitting there thinking, ‘What are you doing with your life?’
“I got lucky for some reason and was given a second chance at this thing. And now, I haven’t looked back.”
Hurst’s second chance
Hurst credited Dr. Timothy Malone, the University of South Carolina’s director of athletics mental health and a psychiatrist, for guiding his recovery after the suicide attempt. Hurst said therapy was very hard for him initially because he is private and doesn’t like to show emotions. He said the best recommendation he received from a therapist was to start journaling, basically keeping a diary of events going on in his life. He called that his saving grace. Hurst met with Malone every other day for a month, then graduated to once-a-week sessions as he improved.
The South Carolina football staff, including then-newly named head coach Will Muschamp, showed empathy for Hurst’s plight and applauded his progress.
“It’s awesome to see him grow up in front of your eyes and to see how he is handling the situation now moving forward,” Muschamp said of Hurst. “To be honest with you, I’m a football coach, not a psychiatrist, so I felt a little hopeless when the situation arose. But we have a wonderful support system here at the University of South Carolina.
“You have to compliment Hayden and his family. He’s got a great support system at home with his parents and sister. And Hayden himself, you have to credit the young man for recognizing some things he needed to deal with in life. That’s why I think he has such a strong voice.”
Hurst repeatedly praises his parents, Jerry and Cathy, and his sister, Kylie, for keeping his spirits up. The four of them refer to themselves as the “Core Four” because of their tight bond. Kylie, a veterinarian in Atlanta, now gets to see her brother on a regular basis. And Cathy, who is retired in Jacksonville with her husband, runs her son’s foundation.
The work ahead
Hayden Hurst created the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation in 2018 to focus on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. His story is a powerful tool in accomplishing the foundation’s mission.
“When I heard Hayden’s story, I was like, ‘Man, this is what kids need to hear, especially student-athletes,’” said Chris Simon, founder of BTST Services (BTST for “a better tomorrow starts today”), a partner with Hurst’s foundation. “People like to go to games and support these athletes but never think about the pressure that they have to deal with on a daily basis and how those pressures impact their lives and their mental health.”
Added Hurst: “We kind of target adolescents just to get them in that age range so they have the tools to deal with it when life kind of kicks you. Unfortunately, everyone deals with some sort of trauma in their life. The goal is to kind of clip the kids now before something dramatic happens and they don’t have the tools to deal with it.”
Cathy Hurst, the foundation’s vice president, has made connections with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation (H3H), created after Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide in January 2018. She has already reached out to the Falcons and team owner Arthur Blank’s family about partnering for mental health awareness events. Hurst’s foundation has held fundraising golf and dinner events in Baltimore and Jacksonville, and it will look to do the same in Atlanta as Hurst settles into his new home.
Hurst, who wears No. 81, helped cover the cost for 81 free therapy sessions for Baltimore kids through BTST. He also took a group of 20 students to a Bengals-Ravens game last season.
“Two or three of them came up to Hayden afterward and shared their stories about struggling with anxiety,” Cathy Hurst said. “And they told him, ‘It’s so nice that you were able to overcome it. And you give me strength.’ That’s why he tells his story: to be able to help these young people be able to realize, ‘It’s OK not to be OK.'”
Hayden Hurst, now sober for 4½ years, is willing to share his story with anyone who will listen. He hopes doing so will dispel the stigma around mental health issues and make the same type of impact it did on that young boy who approached him at South Hagerstown High.
“Like I said, I pretty much hit rock bottom,” Hurst said. “But in hindsight, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me because it kind of flipped a switch for me internally that I needed to turn my life around. I’m sober now, and I haven’t touched any [drugs]. I think I’m a way better person without all that stuff.
“What’s going to keep me happy moving forward? Family. They’ll be with me in Atlanta. They’ll always keep me grounded. They’ll never let my head get too big, and they’ll never let the lows get too low. They’re a great group of people, and I love them to death. They’re going to stick with me through this whole thing.”
Coach Ron Rivera says he’s been working with Redskins owner on new nicknames
Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera said he’s been working with owner Dan Snyder on a new team nickname in recent weeks.
“If we get it done in time for the season, it would be awesome,” Rivera told The Washington Post in an interview on Saturday.
“We came up with a couple of names — two of them I really like,” Rivera told the newspaper. He didn’t reveal the names.
Washington is likely to change their name, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, after the team announced Friday it will “undergo a thorough review” of the nickname amid renewed pressure, given the national focus on human rights and social justice after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Friday that the league has had “ongoing discussions” with Snyder and was “supportive of this important step.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith also issued a statement supporting the Redskins’ formal review of the team’s name.
Rivera told the Post it’s important that a new nickname respects Native American culture and traditions, while also saluting the military. Rivera is the son of an Army officer.
“We want to do this in a positive way,” said Rivera, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent and is the only Hispanic head coach currently in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Conner surprises mom with new house
It’s not quite Christmas in July, but James Conner still played Santa Claus for his mom, Kelly Bibbs.
The Steelers running back surprised Bibbs with a new house, posting a video of the unveiling to Instagram late Saturday afternoon.
Conner pulled off the surprise with the help of his brothers, slipping out of sight until she entered the house.
When she went inside, she saw Conner standing in the empty house. A gold balloon display reading, ‘Welcome Home’ hung at the end of a hallway. Bibbs was overwhelmed with tears and stepped outside. When she went back inside, the men shouted, ‘Welcome home!’
This isn’t Conner’s first big gift of the summer. A month ago, the Erie, Pennsylvania, native surprised his dad with a new truck.
Washington Redskins’ nickname has been under fire for decades – Washington Redskins Blog
The Washington Redskins‘ nickname has been mired in controversy for decades.
Former team owner Jack Kent Cooke said in 1988: “There is not a single, solitary jot, tittle, whit chance in the world,” that the Redskins change their nickname. “I like the name and it’s not a derogatory name.”
A few years later, protesters picketed against the nickname at the Super Bowl following the 1991 season.
The issue faded in both instances, but every so often, it comes up again. The arc is similar each time: An initial wave of support for a name change, the Redskins holding firm, and finally, waning attention to the issue.
Then came George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police. The protests that followed led to monuments being felled, the Mississippi state flag’s retirement and countless other changes throughout the nation.
Now Washington’s NFL team might become part of that change. It put out a statement Friday saying it was going to “undergo a thorough review of the team name.” It’s the first time under Dan Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, the franchise has gone to this extent.
Here’s a look at some of the challenges to the Redskins’ nickname over Snyder’s tenure:
Aug. 11, 2006: Suit challenges Redskins trademark
Amanda Blackhorse became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the trademark of Washington’s nickname, saying it disparaged Native Americans. It was the second time Blackhorse was part of a suit that challenged a trademark that protected the Redskins’ name. The first one, decided in 2005, was unsuccessful.
May 9, 2013: ‘Put it in all caps’
Snyder’s strongest comment on the name happened during the 2013 offseason as focus returned to the topic, perhaps spurred by more winning. Washington was coming off a 10-6 season under rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
During an interview with USA Today, Snyder said, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Sept. 15, 2013: Protests lasted the season
The Oneida Indian Nation kicked off a season-long protest campaign when Washington played at the Green Bay Packers. The group protested at every road game that season. Perhaps the biggest one occurred in Minnesota before a game vs. the Vikings when hundreds of protesters marched the streets to the stadium.
Several days before the Packers game, Brandon Stevens, an Oneida Nation official, told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel: “The warrior image is not the image we want to be portrayed.”
Oct. 5, 2013: President Obama weighs in
President Barack Obama stopped short of saying the name should be changed. But he was the latest politician to discuss the matter.
He told The Associated Press: “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
Obama also said: “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things. I don’t want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so.”
Oct. 10, 2013: Snyder’s letter to fans
Five days later, as pressure mounted on the Redskins, and more protests took place, Snyder wrote to the fan base.
In the letter, which represented his most extensive comments on the controversy, Snyder defended the name by saying: “Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
Snyder also expanded on what the term “Redskins” means to him: “When I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends.”
May 22, 2014: 50 Senators sign a letter protesting the name
Fifty senators, all Democrats, signed a letter sent to the NFL saying Washington should change its nickname.
The letter stated: “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team. … We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports.”
The NFL also issued a release to the New York Times defending the name.
“The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image,” the statement read. “The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.”
June 8, 2014: Court rules against Redskins
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks held by the Redskins, calling the nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.” It cited a federal law that prevented trademark protection in cases in which the language was offensive or disparaging.
The Redskins appealed the decision.
May 19, 2016: Washington Post poll says 90% of Native Americans not offended
In 2004, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released a poll that said nine out of 10 Native Americans were not bothered by the name. A Washington Post poll 12 years later found similar results.
The Post found that 90% of 504 respondents who identify as Native American were not offended by the name. Seven of 10 did not feel it was disrespectful and eight of 10 said they would not be offended if a non-Native American called them by that name.
June 19, 2017: Supreme Court rules in favor of Washington
The Redskins won a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office used to prevent the team from registering trademarks using the word “Redskins” was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court stated it was “far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.”
The court cited a case involving an Asian band named The Slants, ruling the name did not violate the First Amendment’s free-speech clause because “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
May 25, 2020: George Floyd dies
While George Floyd’s death in police custody happened in Minnesota, it set off a chain of events that impacted Washington and beyond. Thousands of people flocked to the streets in cities across the country, protesting police brutality and racism. The country’s focus shifted from the coronavirus pandemic to race relations.
Statues were toppled in many cities and towns over the next month — including that of Washington’s first owner, George Preston Marshall, outside RFK Stadium. The Redskins also removed Marshall’s name from their Ring of Fame. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from racetracks.
The protests led to another opening for those who opposed the team name, and they mobilized.
July 1, 2020 : Letter to sponsors
On Wednesday, Adweek reported that 87 investors and shareholders, worth a combined $620 billion, sent a letter the previous week to three sponsors — FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo — urging them to support a name change. In the past, groups had protested outside stadiums and tried to change the name through the courts. But this represented a targeted push directed at sponsors.
On the same day Adweek’s story appeared, the Washington Post quoted multiple officials in Washington, D.C., saying the team would not be able to move back to the city unless it changed their name. The Redskins want to build a new stadium after their lease on the land in Landover, Maryland, expires after the 2027 season. They have considered the site where RFK Stadium, their former home, still stands. But because it’s on federal land, the opinions of politicians matter.
“I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality, since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital,” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, told the Post. “He has got a problem he can’t get around — and he particularly can’t get around it today, after the George Floyd killing.”
July 2, 2020: FedEx statement
One person who knows Snyder well called FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, who owns 10% of the team. The person said Snyder idolized Smith. That’s why it mattered when FedEx released a statement Thursday that read, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” Another person who knows Snyder well said he had to have felt “betrayed” by such a statement.
In 1998 — the year before Snyder bought the Redskins — FedEx struck a $205 million, 27-year deal for naming rights to the stadium. In 2014, the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin asked FedEx shareholders to reconsider the naming rights agreement. But shareholders voted to continue the relationship, which ends in 2025. FedEx has not stated if it would sever ties now, but no sponsor has a stronger direct tie to the organization. The statement, multiple people said, was a game-changer.
Nike also released a statement, saying: “We have been talking to the NFL and sharing our concerns regarding the name of the Washington team. We are pleased to see the team taking a first step towards change.”
When searching for Redskins gear on Nike’s website, this is what comes up: “We could not find anything for ‘Redskins.’”
PepsiCo has not released a statement.
July 3, 2020: Redskins statement
The Redskins released a statement late Friday morning. The first two paragraphs packed power:
“In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name. This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.
“Dan Snyder, Owner of the Washington Redskins, stated, ‘This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.'”
One person who knows Snyder well predicted this was the final step toward eventual change, with the owner trying to see what traditions can be preserved. It’s the most serious the organization has been about the name change.
The team’s statement closed: “We believe this review can and will be conducted with the best interest of all in mind.”
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