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Lane Johnson's words on anxiety and depression are the viral clip the NFL truly needs

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4 min read
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When a human being is 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, they are generally portrayed as invincible. 

When a human being is 6-foot-6, 325 pounds and a three-time Pro Bowl honoree offensive lineman whose stock in trade is shedding oncoming and (sometimes equally large) individuals who have the advantage of moving forward while you're trying to stand your ground, you are nearly always portrayed as invincible.

So consider how strong anxiety and depression are if they can bring a human being like that to his knees.

Philadelphia Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, a mainstay of the team's line for nine seasons, recently revealed to the world that his three-game absence earlier in October was due to his need to really address the anxiety and depression that he'd long been hiding from many but could no longer keep pushing aside.

In an interview with Fox Sports' Jay Glazer that aired Sunday, Johnson spoke for the first time about the crippling effects anxiety and depression have had on him.

The hand tremors.

Feeling the "beast," as Johnson called the twin disorders, on his shoulders when he went to sleep and still there when he woke in the morning.

The daily nausea and vomiting, to the point Johnson was throwing up blood.

Hoping that success would make all that go away, only to realize it amplified things.

"I was living in hell for a long time," Johnson said.

Johnson said he was diagnosed with anxiety in college, roughly a decade ago. But his reason for keeping it quiet, even as it intensified, even as he began also dealing with depression, was familiar: As a football player, the "gladiator-sized sport" as he called it, Johnson was ashamed.

"People fear judgment. I'm scared of judgment," he said. "You look at guys when they get done after a game, what's the first thing they do, go on Twitter and search their name. And that's me. I'm talking to myself. That's the world that you kind of need to escape. You need to get out of there and stop having a purpose and a why. I guess I didn't know my why for a while.

"It took a lot of time to focus on myself to get the help I needed and to get into a good mindset again."

It was after the season opener this year, a dominating win over the Atlanta Falcons, that Johnson reached out to his mother to share that something was really wrong. He couldn't put it into words, but he knew he was miserable. His mind wasn't right. His body wasn't right. 

He played in the next two games, on the field for every offensive snap, before he finally took control. He left the team and went home for the healing he needed.

He'd lost touch with his sense of self and what was going on around him, Johnson said.

Even when Johnson felt well enough to return to Philadelphia and rejoin his teammates on Oct. 18, he said he was still scared to press "send" and tell the world what he'd been dealing with. What he is dealing with.

But the response was so overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of people on Twitter and Instagram not just saying they love and support him, including Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack, Rams lineman Andrew Whitworth and other football players, but many others saying they're dealing with anxiety and depression as well.

Elsewhere in the NFL on Sunday, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley went public with news he's taking a break himself to get his mental health right. Johnson clearly isn't alone.

It made him realize his "why," he told interviewer Jay Glazer.

Lane Johnson's candor in discussing his anxiety and depression is incredibly important. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Lane Johnson's candor in discussing his anxiety and depression is incredibly important. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

So often the videos of offensive linemen that go viral are of physical strength, of red-faced weight room feats or pancaking a charging defensive lineman. It's not that those aren't impressive.

But this video of Johnson, the seemingly physically invincible human being showing his vulnerability, acknowledging to us that his mental health required attention in the same way a broken arm or sprained ankle would, should go viral too.

This video matters. Johnson, along with Glazer and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, both of whom also spoke of their own fights with mental illness after the recorded interview ended, can save lives. They will save lives. 

Johnson said he'd lost his sense of self and searched for his why, and in doing the most raw and real thing he perhaps has ever done publicly, he found it. 

If anxiety and depression can devastate a man who is seemingly invincible, it will do the same to the rest of us. It's OK, even encouraged, to tell loved ones and seek help. It's the only way to healing.