NY Jets lineman addresses Montclair football players and their lost season
The Montclair Mounties, who suffered an abrupt and devastating end to this year’s football season, got a message of hope on Monday, Nov. 21, from New York Jets defensive tackle Solomon Thomas.
“You are way more than football players,” Thomas began. “You are all destined for great things.”
The message was in sharp contrast to the one they received on Oct. 28, when the team was informed that it would not be participating in its playoff game that night because an academically ineligible student had been playing all season due to an administrative error. Further, the team would have to forfeit all of its victories in its 4-4 season.
Thomas, who was familiar with Montclair’s situation, was brought in to help the players deal with their mental anguish and lingering grief about a season they feel was snatched away from them.
“I want to thank y’all for listening to me today,” he said. “For y’all to be here and listen to my story, it means a lot. Growing up, mental health was not something I knew a lot about.”
Thomas has a lot of experience discussing mental health issues. He established The Defensive Line, a nonprofit organization that strives “to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young children of color, by transforming the way we communicate and connect about mental health,” according to the organization’s website.
The Defensive Line was founded in honor of Thomas’ older sister, Ella, who died by suicide in January 2018. It left the Thomas family in total shock.
He and his parents, Martha and Chris, are working to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness.
The Jets player, who spoke with the Mounties for more than an hour, was emotionally open about his experiences and the loss of his sister.
“Eight months after my sister’s death, I did not want to be here on Earth anymore,” he told the football team. “I kept putting my head down and trying to be a man. I suppressed my emotions.”
Ignoring his feelings made him feel even worse, Thomas said.
“It was so dark in my head,” he said. “I was going through my feelings. I was sad. I was depressed. I was anxious. I wanted to be strong for my parents, but I just lost my feeling for life.”
But he got help from an unexpected source, NFL Hall of Famer John Lynch, who is now general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
“I was not performing the way I should be,” Thomas recalled. “John Lynch, the NFL Hall of Famer, gave me the permission I needed to talk about my feelings. I started going to therapy. I learned coping mechanisms. I started to journal. I started to meditate. I learned how much courage and strength is needed to ask for help.”
Thomas ended by connecting his experiences back to football.
“You can’t talk about physical health without mental health,” he said.
“If you are foggy up here,” he said, gesturing to his head, “you are not going to be right down here,” he said, gesturing to his body.
“Mental health is not only about illness. It can be tied to your relationships and your games, too. Mental health is about having a presence of mind in all situations.”
Mounties coach Jermain Johnson acknowledged that this football season might always feel incomplete.
“Other than our banquet, this is the last thing we will do this year as a team,” Johnson said. “For the seniors, there is no good answer for what happened to you. All we can do is put a bandage on it. For you underclassmen, you already know what the motivation is for next year.”
As part of that bandage, Thomas and the New York Jets offered the senior football players tickets to their upcoming matchup against the Chicago Bears.
“Be loud for the defense and quiet for the offense,” Thomas said with a smile.