Hayden Hurst: Cincinnati Bengals tight end on his battle with anxiety and attempt to take his own life | NFL News | Sky Sports

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Cincinnati Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst explains how his struggles with anxiety while playing baseball and college football made him who he is today.

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst is enjoying one of his best seasons in the NFL in 2022, but the former baseball prodigy almost never made it to the NFL – as a result of an intense battle with anxiety that almost saw him take his own life.

Warning: This article contains references to suicide.

Hurst was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, but he ultimately walked away from the game two years later after suffering from ‘the yips’ due to his intensifying anxiety.

Switching his focus to football, courtesy of a college scholarship at the University of South Carolina, Hurst hoped the fresh start would improve his state of mind.

Speaking to Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds, Hurst said: “When I made the change, I figured I’d go to college, have fun, be a kid for a little bit… and for quality of life.

“I thought I was leaving all of that stuff [anxiety] behind but unfortunately that stuff is who I am, it’s part of my make up.

“It followed me to Columbia, [South Carolina] unfortunately. I was continuing with off-the-field stuff, like drinking and using drugs, which didn’t help my problem whatsoever. It made it completely worse.

“I made some decisions there which led to my attempt [to take my own life].

“Looking back on it, I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because it completely made me do a 180 in my life.

“It was a tough three or four years but it changed the person I was, changed the man I am now.”

‘My hands would start shaking, they’d sweat’

Hurst has been sober since 2016 and has gone on to forge a very successful NFL career, joining the league in 2018 as a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens before finding his way to Cincinnati – via a stint with the Atlanta Falcons – where he has 388 yards receiving and two touchdowns so far this season.

Hayden Hurst has gone on to forge a successful career in the NFL, joining the Cincinnati Bengals prior to the 2022 season

Reflecting on those early battles with anxiety on the baseball field, the former pitcher said: “Being 18 years old and all of a sudden having to go play a grown man’s sport, professional baseball, I kind of got shell-shocked.

“I’ve always leaned on my family to be my support system and my rock, and so having them be far away was tough. It was hard for me to deal with; it might have played into my situation with baseball and my anxiety.

“My hands would start shaking, they’d sweat. I’d have no idea where the ball was going to go – which, for me, was so hard to understand and come to terms with, because baseball was always easy.

“It was rough. It was so bizarre and I still, to this day, have no idea where it came from, how it happened or how I could have fixed it?”

Speaking further on the importance of his family in helping him through his darkest times, Hurst said: “They’re awesome. They were always just a phone call away and they’d always drive down [to see me] whenever I needed it which, at the time, was almost every weekend. They’re my people.”

Hurst and his mum Cathy have since started up the ‘Hayden Hurst Family Foundation’ to raise awareness of mental health issues in children, adolescents and the military.

“It’s very relatable,” Hurst said, when asked why he chose to tell his story. “Everybody goes through their own thing – anxiety, depression – though to what extent may vary.

“I put it all out there because I know what it’s like to be in that headspace. You feel alone, like there’s no way anybody else could feel like this, but it’s really the exact opposite.

“I am who I am, it has made me who I am today. And if it can help save lives, I’ll put out my story in full detail.”

Williamson: I felt like the coaches had messed with my head

Anxiety and depression, as Hurst says, are issues that affect everyone, to varying degrees. But the pressures associated with elite-level sport can sometimes serve to bring them to the surface.

Reacting to Hurst’s interview in the Sky Sports studio, former NFL linebacker Avery Williamson shared his personal story of how his mental health was adversely affected while involved in the game.

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Avery Williamson and Phoebe Schecter break down the importance of elite athlete’s mental health and shed light on the importance of talking and being open.

“As a kid, you chase that dream being a professional player and you only see on TV them playing football on Sundays,” he said. “It’s only once you get older, you realise it’s ‘work’.

“Every day there is pressure – somebody is always there trying to take your job. You have to perform, especially if you’re not a higher draft pick. As a fifth-round [draft] pick, every day at practice I had to be perfect, and especially in the games.

“I would have anxiety going into games, waking up on Sunday morning. Sometimes I wouldn’t even want to be there.”

He added: “I remember going into my fourth year, my contract year, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get that big deal – I’d been working towards that for my whole life.

“I was doing good but then they [the Tennessee Titans] started rotating me. I was so frustrated about the whole situation; I was calling my agent, stressed. I got so messed up mentally that I felt like I couldn’t perform on the field.

“I knew I wasn’t being myself and I remember, after one game, I was speaking with one of my team-mates Wesley Woodyard, and in his car I just started crying. I felt like the coaches had messed my head up so bad.

“I started doing meditation before I went into the building every day and I managed to get out of that cycle. But it was a struggle. Pressure can crack anybody.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. Just because we’re football players, doesn’t mean we don’t have emotions. You can’t just look at us like machines, we’re people.

“You try to be so tough, try to put that shield up, but sometimes breaking it down and talking to people can really help.”

Schecter: There’s no price for someone’s mental health

It’s not a problem limited to NFL players, either, with former coach Phoebe Schecter – Britain’s first female coach in the sport – speaking to her experience of trying to make her way in the game.

“You’ve got fatigue, crazy hours – we’re there longer than the players – from 5am to 11pm sometimes,” Schecter said. “You’re worn down, you’re not seeing your family. And especially if you’re not in a winning team, that adds pressure.

“Everyone is human. You’re trying to do a job, trying to work at this insanely high level… and I think sometimes that almost feels heavier as a woman, if I’m being honest.

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Britain’s first-ever female NFL coach Phoebe Schecter talks to Her Huddle about her time interning with the Buffalo Bills and the challenges facing women in elite sport.

“You can’t be seen to be having any sort of emotions, because then you’ll be labelled as ’emotional’, or ‘too much of a woman’. It’s a real thing.

“I felt like I needed to be better than anyone else in that building, I needed to be working at 100 per cent and couldn’t be anything less than that.”

She added: “That can be a lot on one person. And there’s no price for someone’s well-being, there’s no price for someone’s mental health.

“You just have to talk to people and let people know how you’re feeling because people want to help you.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.

This content was originally published here.

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