UNCG Magazine

Spartans help safeguard pro athletes’ mental health

Maintaining peak mental health can be challenging. When you have millions of people watching, it can be exhausting.

Lindsey Sanders ’12 MSW, ’21 PhD and Shaun Tyrance ’03 MS are among the health specialists making sure NFL players are taken care of in their entirety, including their mental health.

Sanders, a behavioral specialist, oversees behavioral services administered by Cigna on behalf of the NFL. Tyrance is vice president of player services and assessment for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he works to support players’ and coaches’ behavioral health and psychology. He joined the team in 2019 as the second full-time clinician in the NFL, before it was mandated by the league.

“I go to every team meeting, practice, and game,” he says. “Our coach and managers see my office as a good place and encourage the players to use the service. It takes away a lot of the stigma of seeing a therapist.”

The NFL only requires a clinician to be on staff for eight to 12 hours a week, but the Chiefs have hired Tyrance to be there full-time. “Mental health is so important for everyone, especially during recent times,” Tyrance said. “When (players) make a mistake at work, it’s very public. They have unique stressors.”

Sanders agrees. “A lot of people assume athletes have it all, but they have such incredibly unique needs,” she said. Even in high school and college, coaches need to prioritize the mental health of their athletes, she explains. They can face enormous pressure regarding academics, performance, and body issues.

She began working with Cigna in January 2020. She was working on her doctorate in public health education at UNCG and was a graduate assistant at the Institute to Promote Athlete Health and Wellness when she learned of the position

“Dr. (David) Wyrick was chair of the dissertation committee and my boss. He was an incredible resource for me,” she said. “He understood how I wanted to use my degree and got me involved in organizations that presented at conferences, which helped me meet people. It got me on an email list that had job postings, and this one came around.”

Prior to earning her doctorate, Sanders received her master’s in social work through a joint UNCG/NC A&T program.

Tyrance earned his master’s degree from UNCG in sports and exercise psychology. He was recruited by the Chiefs to be their clinician after working in private practice with college athletes in Charlotte for nearly a decade.

Mental health is as normal a topic as physical health, Sanders explained. “It needs to be a natural part of (the player’s) day, like going to the doctor, then the chiropractor, then the therapist. Everyone needs to work together to keep this person healthy.”

By Sarah Newell, School of Health and Human Sciences
Courtesy photography

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