On Tuesday, December 1st, Super Bowl Champion Quarterback Doug Williams and Wide Receiver Gary Clark virtually joined the HEADstrong Project representative, Matthew McCoy, and five American heroes to discuss mental wellness and the parallels in transition out of the NFL and military. The panel discussion concluded the Washington Football Team's Salute to Service Month celebration and was designated to raise awareness for organizations providing therapy and meetings with psychologists for service members and veterans in need.
Host GeNienne Samuels kicked the event off with introductions from the two Super Bowl Champions – who both introduced themselves and talked about their struggles transitioning out of their playing careers and similar identity crisis' following retirement. Williams' father served in World War II and Clark an avid military supporter throughout his career, both gentlemen humbly praised the veterans joining them and their service, Clark even indicating 'All the things we've accomplished in our lives and on that field couldn't and won't ever hold a candle to a week of what you've accomplished in your line of work."
After introductions, McCoy introduced each warrior representing the HEADstrong Project. Each an American hero with one thing in common – their experience during or after their service successfully seeking therapy with the HEADstrong project. Each participant (Lieutenant Colonel Bridgette Bell, Captain Connor Crehan, Major Danny O'Neel, Tahlia Burton, and Pasha Palanker) had all very unique experiences in their services that, ultimately, lead them down similar paths. They all experienced similar trauma in their service serving, being injured, losing people around them, fostering anxiety, taking responsibility for things out of their control – which led to internalized trauma. Although each participant on the panel had very different responsibilities in their service from different parts of the country, it led them to the HEADstrong Project. An organization focused on erasing the stigma of mental disorders of trauma and blocking public record therapy, driving veterans and service members to seek help when it's necessary. Their mission is to provide confidential, effective and free mental health care treatment for post-9/11 military veterans and their families.
Throughout the 90-minute discussion, the military members told their stories (provided below) and made connections to Doug and Gary related to their transition out of the NFL. From losing your identity to missing your team, the group shared stories about setting an example for the people around them, being the bigger man and asking for help when you need it, and (outside of asking for help) what's needed to make your transition easier – and that's often just picking up the phone and being dependable. Watch the clip below as Captain Connor Crehen shares a thought about admitting you need to see a therapist or psychologist.
At the conclusion of the event, both Williams and Clark sang praise to those who shared and were met with ultimate gratitude from those who participated. The group was incredibly happy to have shared their experiences with the two former-football players and preached the importance of high-profile players (like our guests) to continue having these discussions. Lt. Col. Bell had this to say: "Gary, I appreciate that... In ways that you have no idea what it feels like to know that we're all on the same level here on this call because we really understand one another's struggle. As well as the power and impact we're all trying to have today. It's empowering and it's enlightening. If I never see a Washington game again, I'll never forget this conversation and say – they get it, and that means something to me."
We'd like to thank the HEADstrong Project for joining us for our first annual Pass for Peace event. We'd like to remind all military supporters to visit www.getheadstrong.com and show your support for an organization that changes lives.
Meet the Heroes from the HEADstrong Project: