This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
NFL players are always trying to look their best on the field during game day, but Week 12 in the NFL brings more importance to the gear that’s worn, specifically footwear.
My Cause My Cleats is an NFL initiative that allows players to wear customized cleats that bring awareness to charitable causes, and they will be featured in Weeks 13 and 14 this season.
Carolina Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst’s cause is one he’s proud to represent, though it comes from his own rock-bottom experience.
In 2016, Hurst woke up in a hospital after a night of drinking. A friend told him Hurst had cut his wrist, and he found Hurst in a “puddle of blood.” Hurst, a standout for the South Carolina Gamecocks, had attempted suicide.
Hurst was living with depression and addiction issues at the time, but that terrifying moment waking up in the hospital was one that changed his life. He called it a “come to Jesus moment,” he told the First Coast News.
Since then, Hurst has not been ashamed to share his story, hoping he can lead others to assistance if they need it.
That’s why he teamed up with Face The Fight, a coalition established by USAA, the NFL’s official Salute to Service partner, in 2023. The organization raises awareness and support for veteran suicide prevention. His Hayden Hurst Family Foundation will also be involved.
“I think, unfortunately, in this country, military stuff kinda gets taken for granted, and I’ve got family members that serve and current friends who are in,” Hurst explained to Fox News Digital by phone. “They make the ultimate sacrifice for us, man. My buddies leave their families for 10, 11 months at a time, and I think our freedoms are kinda expected in this country.
“We don’t understand what it takes necessarily to have the freedoms that we have. But I can see it firsthand when they go over to Europe and leave their families for months at a time. That allows us to sit here and talk freely on podcasts, do our day-to-day routines here back at home. So, I have a lot of respect for what those guys do.”
Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide across the United States. Veterans are at a 57% higher risk of suicide than those who haven’t served, which is why there has been a strong call to action to advocate for military members, current and former, to seek help.
Face The Fight’s goal is cutting the suicide rate among veterans in half by 2030, something that aligns perfectly with Hurst’s foundation because of its shift from adolescent suicide prevention to veteran suicide prevention.
“I think the veteran suicide rate is ridiculously high for this country with the resources we have,” Hurst said when asked about partnering with Face The Fight. “Then, just talking more and more with my buddies and them sharing their experiences about going overseas, leaving their families and the things they have to see on a day-to-day basis that we don’t necessarily see back home or have to deal with.
“The self-sacrifice they make for the betterment of this country and betterment of our population — I think it’s very, very commendable. I have the utmost respect for those men and women in the military. If I wasn’t playing football, it’s probably something I’d be doing.”
As part of his My Cause My Cleats initiative, Hurst also got to meet two members of the military impacted by veteran suicide.
Vernard Hines, an Army veteran, and Melissa Lopez of the Army Reserve have both been impacted by suicide in their lives. Lopez lost her sister to suicide and has dealt with her own suicidal thoughts.
“At one time, I was 24 hours away from suicide. I had planned it out,” Hines said, “If we want to break the stigma, do not feel bad that you need help.”
“The stigma around mental health has definitely improved,” Lopez added. “I think we still have ways to go. … This coalition is important because of all the resources that it brings to the table for veterans and all the awareness and engagement it’s trying to create.”
Hurst’s cleats will feature mentions of both charitable organizations, the 988 suicide hotline and Lopez and Hines.
“Obviously, I’ve played sports, and they’ve done military stuff,” Hurst said. “But our life experiences are the same. When you can kinda be vulnerable and share those stories, it allows other people to relate to them and be vulnerable as well in their own stories. Be comfortable in their own skin and be like, ‘Oh man, look at these three individuals sharing their most intimate secrets about their lives. Why can’t I go talk to somebody and fix my life as well?’
“That’s the reason why I continue to do these things, even if it’s only one person that gets affected by the video or something that I say, that’s one more person we’ve affected. That’s the whole point of this thing.”
Hurst’s journey to turning 30 and playing in his sixth NFL season is the definition of a roller coaster. But he’s stayed on track despite adverse times.
“The foundation, the stuff off the field, brings me just as much joy as making a first down catch in a game,” he said. “It’s really, for me, doing these talks and interviews, over the years it’s become almost therapeutic for me. I’m not the most emotional guy, so to speak. I get stressed out when I have to do interviews and anticipate things. But when I get done with it, it really is therapeutic because I know I’m helping people. I’m getting stuff kinda off my chest as well.
“But it’s really cool seeing where I was back in 2012, 2013 to where I’ve made it 10 years later. To say I’ve done a 180 would be putting it lightly. But it’s just a cool situation that I’ve worked myself into, having success on the field and helping people off the field. It’s just humbling honestly.”