Selected in the second round of the 2020 draft out of Penn State, Denver Broncos receiver KJ Hamler has struggled through injuries in his short NFL career, playing just 16 games with six starts. Still, he’s shown enough explosive potential as a player to get those in the know excited about how he can thrive in Denver’s new Russell Wilson-led offense.
On Monday, Hamler put the pads on for the first time in nearly a year—he was taken off the Physically Unable to Perform list and was able to practice. It was great news after a long wait — Hamler suffered a torn ACL and a dislocated hip in Week 3 of the Broncos’ 2021 season.
After practice, Hamler talked about the road back — both physically and mentally.
“It’s been a tough journey, to be honest. There was such much stuff I was dealing with and being piled up on top of each other. At one point, just dealing with the ACL and then some more things [with] family situations. The love of my life passed, my grandmother, so that was the toughest thing. That was on my back for awhile.
Hamler then said that he wished he hadn’t had to go through it all himself.
“Football brought me back to life, and I’m grateful.”@Kj_hamler — thank you for sharing your story, thank you for being so vulnerable, thank you for being an inspiration to so many. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/TXWOn8grxh
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) August 1, 2022
“I wish I would have asked for help, because it was at one point in my life—and I’m going to just be honest with you all because I’m more vulnerable and more confident in myself by just saying it. At one point, I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in this world. There was one point where I didn’t want to be heard from anymore because I lost my granny and that really hurt me. God gave me the strength to just get out of that hole because he knew I was strong enough to get through [it]. I didn’t feel like I was at the time. Just getting out of that hole was very hard, very tough. Just having all of these things going on and piling on top of each other, it was a hard process. Just to see where I am at from where I started and where I’m at now, [it’s] been a big change. I’m proud of myself and I know my grandmother is proud.”
Hamler said that while he’s in a much better mental state now, it was tough for a while. It was especially hard when he was told that his grandmother had died.
“The night I got that call. You guys don’t understand. That was my mother. My grandmother was my mother. I took her to get her hair done, took her to get food all of the time. Every time I came home, I saw her first. I called her every Monday. When I missed that call on that Monday and then we got the call on Saturday… here is a lot of regret in my heart from that. It was three months after surgery. I was holding a lot of regret on myself about that. It still kind of haunts me to this day, even though I am better. When you lose the woman that raised you, it’s just a different feeling.”
While Hamler didn’t talk to anyone when the feelings first took over, he did get help. It was a revelation for him.
“I was just in a cocoon, wrapped up. I just kept everything to myself. I feel like, as a man, we always say to be tough or just block everything out. You have to be a man; you have to be tough. That’s just not the prime example of a masculine man. Sometimes, you have to let it out. Sometimes you need help, and I’m just starting to learn that now.
“At the end of the day, I talked more. I was in therapy. I checked into therapy. I talk to my guys more, talked to my mom, talked to my dad and all the people that care about me here because I don’t have any family out here. [I’m] just trying my best to be a better version of myself.”
How has therapy been for him?
“Therapy has its ups and downs. There are for sure ups and downs. Some days, you hear what you want to hear, and then some days, it’s not the stuff you want to hear. That’s just—that’s life. Life is not perfect. I’m not perfect, I’m human. I’m not afraid to tell you all what I’ve been going through. It’s been a tough year, but you see me where I’m at right now. You see that I’m still here and I’m still working to be the best version of myself. I know everyone around here is proud of me. I’m proud of myself from where I came from—Step 1 to right now. I’ll just keep pushing from there.”
More NFL players are making their public efforts to help themselves with their mental health. Last year, Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson took a three-game absence to deal with depression and anxiety.
—Lane Johnson (@LaneJohnson65) October 18, 2021
“I was ashamed, to be honest,” Johnson told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, when asked why he had kept his struggles quiet for so long. “In this league, the NFL, where it’s a gladiator-type sport, it’s something that’s not often talked about but is often felt throughout the league.”
It seems that the part of the story that is not talked about is changing, and that’s a vital, positive change for NFL players — people who have long walked through the myth that touch guys don’t discuss their problems.