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Willie Gay Jr. opens up about his mental health struggles

Earlier this season, the Kansas City linebacker announced he was struggling with his mental health.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In mid-October — just as he was rejoining the Kansas City Chiefs’ lineup after being on injured reserve since the end of the 2020 season — second-year linebacker Willie Gay Jr. posted on Twitter about his mental health.

“Well, I’m proud of [Gay] for mentioning it,” said head coach Andy Reid after Gay had played in that weekend’s game against the Buffalo Bills. “A lot of people don’t mention it, which I think is a great tribute to the kid for bringing it forward. We’ve got Dr. T (Dr. Shaun Tyrance) here, which we’re glad we have, and so he’s able to talk to him and address the problem. I think that’s a beautiful thing. So many people keep this hidden and then disastrous things happen. I’m just glad he came forward with it.”

On Saturday, Gay spoke to reporters for the first time since his cryptic social media post, using the opportunity to share some insight on what was happening at that time.

“I was going through some things, man,” he recalled. “In life, you know, people think these NFL players are bulletproof or whatever. We’re taught growing up to just hold it in and go on about your day — and keep distractions away. But I got to the point where I was like, ’I can’t shake this,’ and I had to tell my coaches [and] the people that I work with.”

Gay said that he’d been feeling stressed about everything happening in his life for a long time.

“You’ve got real life, and you’ve got football,” he explained. “You’ve got what people think happened, and then you’ve got what really goes on — since high school [and] college. I still remember since college recruitment, man, when the real stretch actually started — and it hasn’t stopped since then.”

NFL: NOV 08 Panthers at Chiefs Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Gay said that getting into the pros made everything even more stressful.

“Coming to the NFL, where people think everything’s perfect — you’ve got a little money and you play on Sundays — you just have to stay humble and let people know, ‘I’m still human at the end of the day.’ I still have feelings. I still get angry. I still get stressed. I can [make] 10 tackles and still be stressed. You’ve just got to be sure you balance it out, man.”

But his public announcement did a lot more than just draw praise from his head coach. Gay said that he was getting support from everyone in his life.

“Everybody was texting me,” he recalled of the time after his post. “Everybody was checking in on me — from coaches to training staff, equipment staff, of course, all my teammates — just making sure I was good and I was here because they know me well. They know when I’m having one of those days; I feel like I’m a guy that when I’m having a good day, you’re going to know — and when I’m not, you can definitely tell.

“But they did a real good job, man, with just keeping me on the right track and helping me out. A simple, ‘You good, bro?’ goes a long way.”

Gay said that he’s now doing well — and has a new baby boy.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you’ve just got to let that stuff out, man — so you [can] move on.”