After a nine-year NFL career in which he started 116 games for the Seahawks and Lions, Ray Roberts thought he was ready for retirement.
Then the depression set it, and a man who once went to battle with some of the most fearsome athletes in the world suddenly found it impossible to leave his own house.
Listen To Big Ray's Garage Grind: Mental Health Edition
Nine-year NFL veteran and Seahawks Legend Ray Roberts takes you behind the scenes looking at the intersection of mental health and sports. In this series you'll learn about his personal mental health journey as well as other athletes navigating life off the field. It's okay not being okay.
"I knew what I wanted to do when I retired, everything was all set," Roberts said. "I'm just going to play this game, retire and keep on moving. And then when I retired, I found myself depressed as all get out. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed two different times. And the first time, I just stayed in the bed all day, covered my head up with the pillow, covered all the windows, sitting in the dark all the time, crying, all kinds of stuff. Just couldn't figure out what it was I was doing with my life, which is weird because I always felt like I was ready for this.
"I started having these panic attacks and anxiety attacks where I couldn't get out the door… I played my whole career against 300-pound dudes, and the freaking one-pound doorknob was defeating me."
Fortunately, Roberts was able to get help, with both his ex-wife and Sandy Gregory—who in 2018 retired as the last original Seahawks employee still working for the team—convincing him to join a 32-day mental health program in Manchester, Michigan called After the Impact, a program sponsored by NFL Trust, an organization the helps former players find success after football.
And now that Roberts is able to better manage his depression and live a more healthy life, he has decided to open up and share his story, hoping that it might help others know they're not alone in their struggles, and that it's OK to need help. In his new podcast titled "Big Ray's Garage Grind: Mental Health Edition," which debuted this week, Roberts shares his story, speaking candidly about his battles with depression, and about his complicated but loving relationship with parents.
"I was like, 'Man, I lend my voice to a lot of things'—I do the football thing, I mentored young people, I worked for Special Olympics and all this," said Roberts, who in addition to working for Special Olympics is also an analyst on the Seahawks pre and postgame radio shows. "This just felt like a place where my voice and my journey could have a major impact on former athletes for one, on men for another, and then on men of color for even another layer. So I wanted to do this thing kind of where I kind of tell my story. It's kind of a journey, because it's not like I went (to the After the Impact program) and things are done and everything's rosy. I wanted people to be able to go on this journey with me and then be able so that they could see what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it looks like to have resources and use the resources and all those different kinds of things, just to try to debunk some of the things around mental health and men and African American men and athletes in a way that, if it helps one person, then I'm happy for that.
The biggest message, says Roberts, is for people to know, "It's OK not to be OK. And it's OK to let people know that you're not OK. You don't have to scream it out to everybody, but if you got a close-knit group of friends or someone that you trust or therapist or whatever, it's OK to let people know you're not OK, even if you're 6-5 and 300 pounds and can bench press the world."
Robert's podcast debuts with a conversation between him, fellow Seahawks broadcaster Michael Bumpus, and Michael Shawn-Dugar, who covers the Seahawks for The Athletic. In the first episode, Roberts opens up growing up in an abusive household, about his parents' struggles with alcohol, and about how one of his goals after going to Virginia on a football scholarship was to get strong enough to go back home and fight his dad. But he also talks about the good times with his parents, and about his dad found God and turned his life around, and the forgiveness that ultimately came when his father passed away.
"I've always been kind of an open book and just kind of transparent like that, because I feel like I can shoulder the load," he said. "But getting a little bit more intimate about my parents and my family and stuff—both my parents have passed away—I had to think about if I was honoring them in it. And because I don't want people to walk away and think, 'Hey, he had the worst parents in the history of the world.' I love my parents. There's a lot of things that have helped me be successful that are my personality and just my ability to connect with people and talk to people and all that kind of stuff. That was my mom inside and out. And then my dad's work ethic—my dad worked a million different jobs to support us.
"I think if my dad could tell me, he would pat me on the back because he knows that I'm trying to help other people, and that the point isn't to expose my parents. The point is to help other people that can say, 'Man, this dude played in NFL. Top 10 pick, played for 10 years, was a starter in the league for 120 something games and all this, but man, we are similar. We're alike in this area. And if he can deal with that stuff, I can deal with that stuff.'… I consider myself a connector of people, and this is a way for me to keep connecting people and keep helping people."
As the podcast continues with different guests, Roberts will continue to tell the story of his playing days, his post-playing career, and the various mental health challenges he has faced. The hope is that by joining him on this journey, other people battling their own mental health issues may find the help they need.
"Just come on this journey with me," he said. "And as I get better, and as I can try to help other people, interview players from all different walks of life, whether it's NFL, NBA, college, high school, whatever it is, and then have a chance to talk to some professionals, mental health professionals. I think that this is my calling at the moment."
Take a look back at former offensive tackle and current radio analyst Ray Roberts through the years. Roberts played nine seasons in the NFL, 1992-2000, including the first four of his career with the Seahawks.