Professional football players are scrutinized for everything they do. Whether it’s kneeling for a cause or standing up to some punk in an airport, there’s never a time when they’re given the opportunity to be human. Instead, they are constantly judged from the pedestal the outside world puts them on.
Julius Thomas, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end in the NFL, is deciding to give up football for a greater cause. Thomas will set out to study brain trauma and the shaky mental health of many struggling NFL players.
In seven NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, Thomas blossomed into one of the game’s elite tight ends.
Having never played collegiate football prior to 2010, Thomas joined Portland State’s football team and became an All-Big Sky Conference selection in just one season. In the 2011 NFL Draft, the former basketball player was drafted in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos.
Thomas burst on the NFL stage in 2013 and 2014, when he caught 24 touchdowns over those two seasons, including Peyton Manning‘s record-breaking 51st touchdown pass of the 2013 season.
After a short stint in Jacksonville, and one underwhelming season in Miami in 2017, the seven-year pro has decided to call it a career.
In a heartfelt letter Thomas wrote for The Players Tribune titled “Journey Into Self,” he cited three reasons why it was time for him to leave football:
— While making the decision to no longer play the game is difficult, I’m also incredibly excited about what’s next: Studying therapy and becoming well trained in it so that I can help people heal from their emotional and mental pain.
— Investigating the effects of contact sports on brain trauma and neurobehavioral performance.
— Participating in research looking at biomarkers that may identify early warning signs of brain disease.
The college basketball player turned NFL star addressed the reasons why he’s giving up the game at 30 years old, as well as why he’s deciding to pursue a doctorate in his next phase of life.
In every professional sport, but particularly football, men aren’t given permission to share what they feel inside. It’s our culture, our profession, that expects us to be above what it means to be human. We’re required to give everything of ourselves and somehow because of our position in life nothing is supposed to bother us. The brave faces we put on after losses — whether they’re relatively trivial losses, like games, or more profound ones, such as marriages or family members — are not always indicative of how we feel inside. There’s a lot of pain that remains hidden.
Having earned his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Portland State, Thomas realized that there was a much bigger problem outside the football field that he needed to be a part of addressing.
You’re constantly reminded by everyone around you that you’re living a dream, so when you realize something isn’t right deep down, you keep that inside rather than trying to evaluate it. Who do you call? How many people truly know that money isn’t some great panacea for emotional pain? You internalize that fear and anxiety and just work harder, believing that winning or money will make whatever you’re feeling go away. You discount your own internal struggle because you believe it’s not as bad as what others experience.
It’s a noble task, and he should be applauded for it.
Julius Thomas is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s good guys over the last several years, and this decision only amplifies that fact.
Facing challenges head on is what he does, and Julius Thomas is going to save lives throughout this process.