Hayden Hurst was looking for a way out. “You feel like nobody’s there,” said Hurst, detailing his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, which led him to abandon a promising baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “When you’re in that headspace and you’re in that dark spot, you feel alone. You feel like nobody’s there, nobody cares. For me, in those years, that’s why I turned to drinking and pills and cocaine. Anything that I could get my hands on to numb that feeling of embarrassment where I wouldn’t have to explain myself to my family as to why my life was unraveling. And one night, it just caught up to me.”
That was the night Hurst decided to take his own life, waking up in a South Carolina hospital following a suicide attempt. “At that point, I wanted out,” remembers Hurst, a multi-sport star with limitless potential growing up in his native Jacksonville. “I’d fought for so long and I just wanted it to be over. For some reason, I got a second chance at this thing.”
Hurst has made the most of his second chance, defying the odds to become a first-round NFL draft pick in 2018. The 27-year-old, now of the Atlanta Falcons following a two-year stint in Baltimore, has enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, ranking eighth among tight ends with 41 catches. The 6’4,” 260-pound Hurst has no doubt made his mark on the gridiron, but his contributions to mental health awareness and suicide prevention have been even greater.
The former South Carolina Gamecock will participate in the NFL’s annual “My Cause My Cleats” campaign this week, promoting two charities—his own Hayden Hurst Family Foundation and Dak Prescott’s Faith, Fight, Finish Foundation, an initiative offering financial assistance to families facing "life-challenging hardships.” Hurst shared a moment with the Cowboys QB after a game in September, commending Prescott for going public with his own mental health struggles following his brother’s tragic suicide earlier this year.
“When you’re the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and you’re scrutinized so much already, and you come out and talk about, ‘Hey I was feeling this way with depression. I suffered loss in my family with suicide.’ What a brave thing to come out and talk about,” said Hurst, whose custom cleats feature uplifting messages like “Your life matters,” “End stigma” and “Change lives.” “As dark as it gets, I promise you there is someone out there that loves you and wants to see you succeed at whatever you do. It doesn’t have to be professional sports. I promise you, there is somebody out there in your life that loves you and that will support you and help you get out of that situation.”
NBA star Kevin Love, who has been similarly vocal in discussing his own experiences with mental health and anxiety, thanked Hurst for sharing his remarkable story and bringing further awareness to an important cause.
Hurst will display his new kicks when the Falcons host division-rival New Orleans Sunday in Atlanta.