The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on all us — making many people feel increasingly isolated, and making communication and outreach even more important than ever. One person who has gone out of his way to always have an open ear for teammates, friends and even fans is LA Rams offensive lineman David Edwards. The 24 year old out of Wisconsin has now taken it a step further by becoming the team’s official mental health ambassador, serving not only as a resource for players in the locker room but also as a liaison between the Rams, the NFLPA and the NFL. “I’m super passionate about mental health, I have a great relationship with [Rams Sports Psychologist] Dr. Carrie Hastings, and I communicate all the time to my teammates,” Edwards told Turf Show Times when asked why he was selected for this important role.
In October, Edwards shared the message about what the term “mental health” really means (such as the difference between anxiety, depression and stress) by appearing on a virtual panel with Dr. Hastings for a group of LA-area students. “When kids (or any people) see the success athletes have and all the good things that go with it, they don’t see the struggle that a lot of players go through ... the grind of training, the grind of getting your body physically ready or injuries, and then there’s also mental health,” Edwards said. “For me being able to share with kids that I go through hard times, they’re able to relate and know I’m just like them and that we all go through the same things.”
A growing number of current players around the league — including Calvin Ridley, Lane Johnson, AJ Brown and Solomon Thomas — have recently publicly talked about their own battles with mental health, and Edwards believes it is important for players to share their experiences. “I feel like players have always battled with depression and mental health ... I mean, everybody does. But I do think people have been suffering more over the last couple of years with the pandemic, everything in our lives has just been totally unstable,” he told TST. “Being at home for that extended period of time and not being able to have the normalcy of going out and doing the things that you love to do had an effect on everybody.” Not surprisingly as a pro athlete, Edwards’ favorite tactic for battling anxiety is to do something that makes him sweat every day. “I’ve always found that I can clear my head and do a lot more good when I’m physically activity,” he explained. “Whenever I am having those [dark] moments, I try to sit outside or go for a walk ... do something to take my mind off of whatever is making me stressed or anxious.”
Edwards says that working with Dr. Hastings has helped him verbalize his stresses, instead of pushing them below the surface and trying to hide from whatever is making him anxious. “She also helps me live in the present, whether I had a good day or a bad day, a good game or a bad game. What happened in the past doesn’t affect the future, and the future is nothing you can control right now,” he said. “I tend to worry about the future, but she tells me: ‘That’s something you can’t control. Why stress about it?’ So she does a great job of putting things into perspective for me.”
The Rams organization as a whole does as much as it can to promote mental health, with Edwards revealing that there’s “an environment of positivity around the building” that is really refreshing to be a part of. “Our coaching staff, our trainers, our people are so positive and solution-oriented, that it makes it fun and encouraging to come into work,” he explained. “You never fear failure. It’s such a great environment that I’m really grateful for. All the people there care about you in every respect, not just as a football player. They care about you as a person; they care about your mental health; they care about your physical health. I would be really shocked to hear that there is another organization in the NFL or in college [football] that does it better than us.” A lot of that comes from the thoughtful leadership of head coach Sean McVay, who instills positivity and confidence in his players, McVay’s OL says. “When your leader is telling you those things, you believe it — you know deep to your core that he means those things ... it makes you want to battle and play even harder for a guy like that.”
As for the impact Edwards has on other people’s lives, he said he received a lot of positive feedback after sharing his personal story on the mental health panel. “It’s hard to do something like that and be vulnerable,” he explained. “I think a lot of the time you’re helping people who you’ll never hear of and never hear from. If they’re in a bad place and they see you doing this, maybe they’ll go out and get help, find someone who they can talk to, or realize that a situation really isn’t that bad.”
Edwards said that his history of helping people with emotional challenges stems back to college, when he’d help his teammates talk through their problems, especially the difficult transition of going from playing football for a living to having a normal nine-to-five job. “I think that was one of the main reasons I started to become passionate about mental health ... I just try to put things in perspective, make things simple for them and give them the tools that I use when things are tough for me.”
Thankfully the league as a whole is doing a lot more to help current and former players with mental health issues, whether from a team standpoint like the Rams, or through the recently- launched Pro Football Hall of Fame Behavioral Health platform. “There are different apps and resources that are available to NFL guys that I don’t think a lot of them know about,” Edwards said. “One of the ones that I use is Headspace. Whether for sleep meditation or just to recenter yourself, it’s an awesome tool.”
While he doesn’t have his own foundation yet, Edwards said he’d like to follow the lead of teammates like Andrew Whitworth, who gives back to the LA community through Big Whit Homes for LA Families. “I’m hoping within the next couple years to launch a foundation and get into that space, I would love to help people in mental health and to kind of navigate those waters with kids and adults,” Edwards told TST.
In the meantime, Edwards has a message for anyone going through hards times or a mental health battle: “There are always better days ahead. It’s really simple and up-lifting. When you’re going through difficult times and things aren’t going your way, you always come out of them and the sun comes up the next day, regardless of how hard and difficult it is ... you’ll get out of it and be better and stronger for it.”
Watch video of the Mental Health Series panel with Edwards and Dr. Hastings here, and visit www.therams.com/community to learn more about the Rams community projects.