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Mental Health Advocacy A Priority For Ravens' Hayden Hurst

June 27, 2019
Early in his first NFL season, Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst suffered the first major injury of his football career, a fractured foot against the Indianapolis Colts Aug. 20.

Hurst was never able to get going after he returned to the team in October, drawing criticism from some fans who wondered if the team made a mistake in spending the 25th overall pick on the tight end out of South Carolina.

"You know, it sucked going through because I know what I'm capable of on the field and you kind of have to listen to the comments, 'Why did we draft this guy, should have drafted this guy,' which I get, it comes with the territory," Hurst said on Glenn Clark Radio June 19. "I'm putting myself out there playing in the NFL, but what I went through, that's about as dark and as low as it gets. So if I can pull myself out of that, I can deal with a minor stress fracture in my foot."

The darkness Hurst is referring to is the anxiety, depression and a mysterious condition that affects athletes called the "yips," all of which he dealt with as a pitcher and first baseman in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league system for three years before switching to football.

After seeking help from mental health professionals, Hurst overcame the struggles he was experiencing.

"He's so much stronger and has confidence in himself, and he told himself that he was never going to get to that spot again and never get down that far in the dark," his mother, Cathy, said. "He knows we're always here for him and if we want him to talk to us."

Hayden said he wouldn't be where he is today without the support of his mother, father and sister, who make up his "core four."

"I don't know if I could do this without my core four, that's what we call ourselves -- myself, my dad, my mom and my sister," Hayden said. "They really helped me through some dark times and they continue to help me to this day. I'm not nearly in the spot I was with the Pirates but I still struggle with stuff to this day. And I can always lean on them for support."

Hayden and Cathy saw an opportunity to use his position as a professional athlete to start a dialogue around mental health. They established the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation and recently secured 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization. 

"I've always had success on the football field so it was a bit of a shock for me this year to go through some stuff," Hayden said of his foot injury. "But for me -- listen I love football ... and I'm extremely passionate about it, but it's only going to last for so long. 

"Off-the-field stuff, where I can help people and start the foundation and change lives off the field, is really what I'm passionate about as well as football. If I can use my platform in my name right now to help shed some light to a topic that not a lot of people like to talk about, I'm going to do that."

Hayden and Cathy have made appearances at local Baltimore schools to share Hayden's story and help end the stigma surrounding mental health. Both said the reception has been incredible.

"When we went to the schools they see Hayden as a football player," Cathy said, "but when he started talking about [mental health] and started telling his story and sharing with them it was great because ... they were coming to Hayden, 'Man I didn't know. I thought you were just a football player.'"

Her son said he was struck by how open the students were about how much they identified with his story.

"For me, it's just kind of remarkable [that] each of the schools we went to, there were numerous kids that came to me afterward almost in tears saying, 'Hey, I can relate. This is what has happened in my house and this is how I feel. This is what happens to me when I'm on the field or on the court,'" Hayden said. "These are high school kids going through this and it's just incredible the stuff that these kids go through and the pressure they have to deal with."

With Ravens training camp just a few short weeks away, the Hursts will be making more appearances and holding several other events with the foundation, all with the support of the Ravens organization behind them.

"We love Baltimore, they've been great to us," Cathy said. "I can't wait for the season because I know [Hayden] has worked his tail off in the offseason to get stronger and get better -- and show himself and the coaches and other teams in the fans how ready he is for the season."

Hurst said he relishes the opportunity to put his injury behind him and regain the confidence of the part of the fan base that might have doubted him last season. Hurst caught 13 passes for 163 yards in 12 games last year.

"Once I get back on the field and I'm playing at the level I was playing at in the preseason before everything happened, I think people are going to get back on my side and kind of understand why I was taken when I was taken," Hayden said. "I'm going to continue to do what I do, and again, I don't worry about it too much because I know how good I am on the football field. Once I get out there this year, I'm going to be able to cut it loose and get back to where I was and kind of take that next step."

For more from the Hursts, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox