Steve Smith was the epitome of cockiness and confidence during his 16-year NFL career, but the former wide receiver was apparently battling some mental health issues while terrorizing opposing defensive backs.
In a piece he wrote for NFL.com, Smith opened up about his struggles with depression both during his playing days and since he decided to retire in 2016. Smith, who first saw a sports psychologist in 2002, says he learned to shut out “noise and negative thoughts” while he was playing, but he revealed that he never really enjoyed his or his team’s accomplishments.
“Well, what if I told you I never truly enjoyed those moments, never felt genuine delight in my accomplishments? … Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone,” Smith wrote. “This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken.”
Smith described several specific moments throughout his career where he knew something just wasn’t right. One came after the Carolina Panthers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game, and Smith says he was so upset that the Panthers passed for just 101 yards that he took no pleasure in the victory.
“I was so upset I couldn’t even get myself to hold the conference trophy,” he admitted. “We earned the opportunity to become world champions, but in that victory, I felt defeated.”
In 2013, Smith decided to seek counseling for non-football related matters for the first time. He continued with that during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, and he said he became more aware of his “flaws” after he tore his Achilles and could only focus on all the passes he had dropped over the 10 years prior. Now that he is a year removed from playing and has continued with therapy, Smith says he finally feels “free.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, nor is there with anyone else who suffers from depression and other mental health disorders,” Smith concluded. “All human beings have strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental. You’re defined by how you play the hand you’re dealt in life. I’ve spent the last year grieving, in a sense, the fact that I no longer am a football player — the one thing I have been my entire life. Reidentifying myself has been quite the process and learning to be OK with that even more so.”