This week's "Hard Knocks In Season" episode shined an important spotlight on mental health, with the Colts' bye week a perfect vehicle to again highlight the Irsay family's Kicking The Stigma initiative on a national stage.
In addition to players and coaches having time off during the Colts' bye week, the Irsay family closed the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Thursday and Friday to give staff members a mental break ahead of the final four weeks of the regular season.
"We are practicing what we preach. We want you to take a break," says Owner/Vice Chair Kalen Jackson.
There's a cool moment in this episode, which happened back in Week 2 when Frank Reich is chatting with Rams coach Sean McVay about the Kicking The Stigma t-shirts players and coaches were wearing for pregame warmups.
"Mental illness — it's a huge deal in our organization," Reich says.
Later in the episode, linebacker Darius Leonard discusses his own struggles with mental health following the death of his brother, Keivonte Waters.
"I was 17. I had to grow up quick," Leonard says. "I never went through a death that close. To lose your best friend and going off to college, not really talking to anyone, being away from the family, I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping I was losing weight. I think that was the darkest spot that I've been in just wanting to stay inside all the time, didn't want to be around other people, having anxiety attacks. All the weight of losing my brother dug me in a hole that I didn't want to be in. That's when I realized I needed to change my life, change my living and get out of that hole so that's when I reached out and just opened up, I think it made me a better persona and seeing a bigger picture of life."
"... I knew that I was put on this world to bring joy and peace and happiness to other people. I knew I could not do that if I didn't start with myself. Luckily I'm better about his death and enjoying life again.
"... People think people with mental health are weak, so people don't like to talk about it. But being through the things I've been through and I can say something about mental health, I just feel like that's going to open up so many more windows of people actually asking for help because people might just talk to someone and never know that it's okay to feel this way."
For more information on Kicking The Stigma and for links to mental health resources, click here.
"Hard Knocks" also took us to Disneyworld with the Buckner family, Valdosta, Ga. with Kenny Moore II and to Zaire Franklin's middle school alma mater in Philadelphia (where he introduced a few kids to chicken & waffles). The show also followed cornerback Xavier Rhodes and his wife, Brittney, to the hospital for the birth of their second daughter, Journey – who, like her older sister, was born during Rhodes' bye week.
Later, Rhodes says Reich texted him after the birth of his daughter: "He knows those little things go a long way because he was a player," Rhodes says.
Other highlights from Episode 5:
- Jim Irsay's collection of memorabilia is truly impressive – like the original scroll to On The Road by Jack Kerouac. You can follow the Jim Irsay Collection on Instagram for a look at some of the pieces he owns, and for some clips of his band playing at various stops on their tour across the United States.
- "He's extremely coachable," Braden Smith's wife, Courtney, says of her husband's photography skills. Coachable on and off the field – a good skill to have. When Courtney asks what photos of her are his favorite, Smith gives the best answer: "They all look good."
- The highlight of the montage of what players say they're doing during the bye week is, without question, Taylor Stallworth, who says he's going to play some "Big Boy Golf."
- The quote of the episode is one of the last clips from it: "We know when Judgement Day is," Reich says upon the Colts re-convening after the bye on Monday. "It's Saturday at 8:20. The New England Patriots. Focus on getting prepared for Judgement Day because we know we got four of them coming. And then there's one at the end of the season where we know if we get in or we're out."