Headstrong

Headstrong with Zach Okun: The distinct difference between Zach prior to that and Zach now

Headstrong with Zach Okun: The distinct difference between Zach prior to that and Zach now

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. 

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Zach Okun received his first collegiate scholarship for athletics in eighth grade. He was more than 300 pounds and as tall as his teachers. There was already a path laid out before him regarding his future: football.

That all changed in a matter of seconds. Football is not just a contact sport, it is a collision sport, especially on the line. Okun was an offensive lineman at the University of Oregon, but a severe concussion suffered at practice one day did more damage than a headache.

Okun battled with anxiety, depression, even suicidal thoughts. It’s a continuous battle within himself.

“It ripped the joy out of life. You can ask anyone who knows me. There’s a distinct difference between Zach prior to that and Zach now. And that’s hard. Feeling like your brain is fighting you, it’s exhausting."

Today, Okun attends the University of Santa Clara pursuing a degree in law. He gets messages from friends, fans and others who may be going to something similar as he did and to some degree still does. 

“I feel like I’m getting back, but everyday is tough. I wouldn’t take back that experience because it made me who I am now but it’s hard.”

How to watch NBC Sports' Headstrong documentary TONIGHT

How to watch NBC Sports' Headstrong documentary TONIGHT

This article and the documentary described is a part of Headstrong: Mental Health and Sports, a multi-platform initiative on mental health and men's health produced by NBC Sports. NBC Sports Northwest has released a series of vignettes throughout the month of November detailing the stories of local athletes that are all available at nbcsportsnorthwest.com/headstrong.

As a part of its campaign to raise awareness about mental health and men's health in the world of sports, NBC Sports has been running stories and videos shining a light on prominent sports figures who have dealt with mental health-related issues both on and off the field. 

This initiative has been leading up to the documentary, Headstrong: Mental Health and Sports, which will air tonight, November 27 at 7:30 p.m. PT following Wednesday Night Hockey.

The documentary features stories from athletes such as Nathan Braaten, formerly of Oregon State Soccer, Justise Winslow of the Miami Heat, Hayden Hurst of the Baltimore Ravens and former NHL goalie, Clint Malarchuk. 

This effort has spanned a variety of subjects, many of which reside in the Northwest. From MVP frontrunner and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. Each story sheds a light on the issues athletes face on the court and in their individual lives, as well as the methods they use to cope with their own mental health struggles. 

HOW TO WATCH

What: Headstrong: Mental Health and Sports

When: Wednesday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (premiering after Wednesday Night Hockey)

Where: NBC Sports Network (channel finder)

MORE HEADSTRONG STORIES:

Seattle Sounders Stefan Frei emphasizes that everyone should find their passion

Channing Frye offers advice for those who seek it 

Former Oregon football lineman Zach Okun's message to those struggling with mental health

Headstrong: Lanesha Reagan no longer hiding her mental health struggles

Headstrong: Lanesha Reagan no longer hiding her mental health struggles

Throughout November, NBC Sports has been releasing video vignettes focused on mental health difficulties among athletes and the stigma around it. 

NBC Sports has released the documentary “Headstrong” in honor of mental awareness month. Among the athletes interviewed was former Oregon State Beavers volleyball player, Lanesha Reagan. 

As she pursued a scholarship to play volleyball, Reagan battled depression, an eating disorder, and self-harm. She even survived a suicide attempt when she was 16 years old. Once enrolled at OSU, Reagan slowly began to open up about her struggles with mental illness. She sought out help available to her as a student athlete on campus.

On January 3, 2017, she posted her journey online in a blog post titled “Being a Student-Athlete and Living with Mental Illness”. You can hear her read the post aloud in the video above. Her courage to tell her story and post itself touched many in the community. 

It’s so much harder to talk to people about things like this that you know really well. Because you feel like they have this assumption of you and you don’t want to let them down or disappoint them.

For a long time she hid her mental struggles from everyone. She felt pressured to uphold the image of the perfect student and accomplished athlete. She looks back to her past self and thinks that delayed her ability to heal.

After telling her story in a public space, Reagan has become an advocate for fighting against the stigma following those with mental health issues. Since seeking out help she has improved a lot, but still finds some days as hard as her time in high school.

Headstrong: Channing Frye offers advice for those who seek it

Headstrong: Channing Frye offers advice for those who seek it

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. Former NBA star, and former Portland Trail Blazer Channing Frye, was one such athlete that participated in the nationwide project.

It can get better. You can't see it... but it's there

- Channing Frye

Channing Frye has been very open about his battle with depression in recent years. His struggles with mental health had him in a fog. A space where eating was a chore and smiling was a challenge. While he was shining under the bright lights of the NBA, he was in a dark space in his mind. 

But Frye was able to persevere. He was able to clear the fog and find his happy place once again. In doing so, he has been able to offer advice to those who seek to find it. The silliest sounding remedy may just be the cure.

Think outside the box. Wake up, put on happy music, even if you gotta wake up and dance. It seems silly... wake up and say 'I'm thankful for this,' or 'I'm thankful for that.' Change something that you're doing.

Change up the routine, no matter how small. If you are in a dark place and continue to do the same things day-to-day, you can never expect to clear the fog. To clear it, you have to change. Even a minor alteration can have a major impact. While the journey will not be without its bumps, it will be worth it in the end. 

"You're gonna get through it, and you're gonna be better for it, and you're gonna appreciate life a lot more."

You can hear more from Channing Frye in the video above.

Headstrong: Damian Lillard believes NBA Mental Health Policy is empowering players

Headstrong: Damian Lillard believes NBA Mental Health Policy is empowering players

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. Portland Trail Blazer All-Star Damian Lillard was one such athlete that participated in the nationwide project.

Lillard has already opened up about being under a microscope as an NBA star. He now shares his thoughts on how the league is doing its part in helping players with their mental health.

“I think it’s really important for the NBA to expand the support of mental health because we all go through different things… There’s a lot of things that take place in our lives off the court that can really affect us mentally,” Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard continued, “We’re professionals. We’re prideful. A lot of us are stars, and we don’t want to show weakness because we’ve been raised that any time you need help or if you fall apart, that’s a weakness. People are kind of ashamed of it and have a lot of pride. So, I think the fact that the NBA has got a grip on it and is taking it serious, it makes guys more comfortable knowing that I’m not alone.”

In late March of last year, Lillard became a father to Dame Jr. He has mentioned on numerous occasions how his personal life has changed since becoming a father.

In the latest HeadStrong campaign, Lillard expressed his appreciation for his mental health coach, who he says is someone he often looks to for advice with issues that arise both on and off the court.

Lillard said his mental health coach is “constantly challenging me as a basketball player, as a person. Challenging my mind to continue to grow and it’s been super helpful… I think a lot of people could use somebody like that.”

You can hear more from Lillard in the full video above.

Headstrong: Former Oregon football lineman Zach Okun's message to those struggling with mental health

Headstrong: Former Oregon football lineman Zach Okun's message to those struggling with mental health

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. 

___ 

Zach Okun received his first collegiate scholarship for athletics in eighth grade. He was more than 300 pounds and as tall as his teachers. There was already a path laid out before him regarding his future: football.

For those who play the game of football, a certain edge is required to be successful in such a violent sport. Okun was just that, but there was more than meets the eye. In August 2019 during a preseason practice, Okun suffered a severe concussion. 

He battled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts…

“I was terrified. That was my biggest fear, was people thinking less of me because of what was going on inside my head. To this day, if I think I did something wrong in class, I will think about it until it drives me insane or I fall asleep. 

Anything I did wrong was the end of the world. And that’s a hard way to live.”

Okun’s football career quickly ended, but his fight with mental health lives on to this day. He sought out therapy and now advocates to anyone who may be in a similar situation that he was and still is today.

He currently attends Santa Clara University and is pursuing a degree in law. 

Headstrong: How Channing Frye emerged from the fog

Headstrong: How Channing Frye emerged from the fog

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. Former NBA star, and former Portland Trail Blazer Channing Frye, was one such athlete that participated in the nationwide project.

Sometimes I’d go sit outside on the porch, play some sad music, kill two bottles of wine, and just cry for hours

- Channing Frye

Channing Frye is a mountain of a man. At seven feet tall and 255lbs, he hardly blends in. That size, coupled with his skills on the court, earned him a long career in the NBA. Fans tend to look at athletes as super-human, but that just isn’t the reality. While Frye was shining in the bright lights on the NBA's biggest stage, he was in a dark space on the inside. As he put it, he was in a fog, a space where nothing made him happy:

When you’re in the league, or you’re a professional player, you really feel immune to a lot of things. But for me at that time, I felt like I just had a weight on my chest. I felt like there was no reason to smile. No reason to get up in the morning.

Frye was dealt a blow at the beginning of the 2016-17 NBA season that left him reeling. The Indians were hosting the Cubs in the World Series when Frye got a call that his mom's health was taking a turn for the worse. He immediately flew to California to be with her, and she passed away shortly thereafter. A few weeks later, Frye got the news that his father had also passed away.

After my mom passed, that was like a swift kick to the nuts. Then, like getting elbow dropped by Macho Man Randy Savage, was when my dad died on Thanksgiving.

This series of events left Frye in that fog he talked about. He struggled to get out to bed, struggled to find motivation, and struggled to smile. But Frye eventually reached a place where he realized he couldn’t continue his downward spiral and needed help to get his mind back on track.

It took a lot for me, not only to have some self-awareness to say you need to get help to stop going in the circle, but to be like, hey, you can’t do this alone.

Frye opened up about his battle with depression and mental health in an article with The Players' Tribune. Mental health never used to be a thing athletes talked about. It was something they bottled up inside, afraid of the stigma associated with going public. But times have changed, and more and more athletes are coming forward because they know they can’t fight the battle alone.
 

You can hear more from Channing Frye in the video above.

Headstrong: Seattle Sounders Stefan Frei emphasizes that everyone should find their passion

Headstrong: Seattle Sounders Stefan Frei emphasizes that everyone should find their passion

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who recently hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy over his head as an MLS Champion, was one such athlete that participated in the nationwide project.

The mental side of prepping as a goalie— you will have nerves, butterflies. It’s a good thing you have butterflies. It means you care, you’re engaged. Mentally, it’s not a turn on, turn off deal. It’s a constant battle. I think that’s why if you don’t deal with it properly, it can add up, and  it can destroy you if you don’t deal with it.

Frei recently shared his love for art and uses it to express himself, but also, decompress. 

“It’s always been a passion of mine, growing up. It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed doing. As a goalkeeper, I don’t get to enjoy being creative, too much.”

And while a mistake on the soccer pitch can be costly, Frei opens himself up to making mistakes on a canvas. 

“For me, art, as difficult it is to surrender, if I do make mistakes, it can actually lead to something beautiful. It’s kind of like an exploration, and there is no wrong."

Frei emphasizes that finding something you’re passionate about is paramount to a happier and healthier life.

“When you have an injury, you get treatment. But, we do so many things beforehand to prevent injuries. Mentally, there needs to be something there, as well.”

You can watch the full video above.