NFL Pros Open Up About Mental Health and Resilience with Intermountain’s “The Strongest Play is Asking for Help” Initiative

During this year’s biggest football week in Las Vegas, several current and former NFL players gathered in a room to talk about an aspect that most have never heard from them – their feelings. The players, known for hard hits and spectacular plays, talked about the importance of addressing mental health to a room full of high school students, and it was captured on camera for all to see and learn.

Throughout May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, Intermountain will be sharing content from the mental health panel, while continuing to engage in important and meaningful mental health conversations with our communities. These events and partnerships highlight a shared commitment to tackling the stigma of mental illness and help others know that they are never alone.

Rob Allen, Intermountain’s president and CEO, spoke at “The Strongest Play is Asking for Help” event, and highlighted the urgent nature of the mental health crisis, labeling it as an epidemic. His remarks underscored concerning statistics, such as the prevalence of mental health disorders among youth ages 6 to 17 and the disturbing fact that suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10 to 14.

The current and former NFL players shared messages that reinforced themes of honesty and empowerment to a diverse audience that included city and community leaders and students from the Clark County School District. Each shared personal anecdotes, illustrating their struggles with mental health and the journey toward openness.

The players on the panel and/or who talked to the students included: Solomon Thomas, co-founder of The Defensive Line, New York Jets; Brandon Bolden, formerly of the Las Vegas Raiders/New England Patriots; Darren Waller, New York Giants; Carl Nassib, retired NFL player; Alec Ingold, Miami Dolphins; Cedric Tillman, Cleveland Browns; and Marcus Smith, retired NFL player.

These football athletes that participated are known for their work off the field advocating for community health causes important to them, such as suicide prevention, homelessness, equity, and other issues that need addressing for marginalized neighborhoods and people.

“I am really grateful for the community collaborators, partners, and influential athletes who would give of their time and resources and their abilities to raise awareness of mental well-being and suicide prevention,” said Rob Allen.

The Defensive Line has been working nationwide on suicide prevention messaging, especially calling out the increased risk for Black youth. Among those youth, the risk for Black females has risen by 182 percent between 2001-2017.

Black men also have elevated risks with 80 percent of suicides among that population being male, and the highest number of them are in their early 20’s.

“We have been defined as men, that we have to be tough, and that we define strength in the entirely wrong way,” said Solomon Thomas on the panel. “But through my journey of grief, my own mental health journey, and everything I have been in, I have learned that being tough is not strength. Strength is being vulnerable.”

Being vulnerable with yourself and knowing it’s normal to seek mental health help was an overall message. Darren Waller, who has battled substance use and alcohol disorders, turned his life and his mental state around and talked about that importance.

“For me it was getting honest and (saying), I don’t have all of this figured out,” Waller said. “We have physical skills and we have mental skills, but as far as emotionally, we don’t necessarily have that, and we need to teach younger generations that skill.”

Intermountain Health is a nonprofit health system and conducts Community Health Needs Assessments in all the states it covers. These states are Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah. In every Community Health Needs Assessment provided, mental health and suicide are near the top as the biggest areas that need addressing.

Intermountain has worked for years to address this with increasing mental health access, both in-person and virtually, partnering with advocacy groups, and working with safe gun storage messaging and devices. Intermountain has distributed approximately 67,000 free gun locks since 2019 and trained over 57,000 people, including first responders, caregivers, teachers and librarians on Counseling for Lethal Arms (CALM).
After the mental health panel, a service project followed that saw the creation of 1,000 Find Your Anchor Boxes. These blue boxes were packed with various materials designed to inspire, soothe, and offer support – such as a 52+ Reasons to Live deck of cards, an infographic on depression, list of resources, a letter from a stranger who cares, posters, a bracelet, a mixtape, stickers, some other sweet nothings, and a whole lot of good vibes.

The players, Intermountain, and mental health advocates then donated the boxes to Las Vegas-area groups so they would be able to hand-out to youth in need. Those places included UNLV Practice center, The Center, Clark County, and Shine A Light Foundation.

The panel conversation and other videos can be found at along with critical mental health resources for local Intermountain areas and National resources as well.

About The Defensive Line:

The Defensive Line was founded by Solomon Thomas, a defensive lineman for the New York Jets and former Las Vegas Raiders, along with his parents, Chris and Martha, after Solomon’s sister, Ella, died by suicide in 2018.

Solomon and his parents have dedicated their lives to sharing Ella’s story and working to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young people of color, by transforming how we communicate and connect about mental health.

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see