Sports

Dak Prescott’s focus on mental health awareness is about caring for others as well as himself — The Undefeated

FRISCO, Texas — The producer leaned forward in the chair, cognizant of Dak Prescott’s jammed schedule and the 90 minutes he had allotted for the project.

“What’s your hard out?” she asked. “I know we have a time limit.”

“When we’re done,” the Dallas Cowboys quarterback said matter-of-factly.

See, time didn’t matter to Prescott, because he was emotionally invested in the project, the story of Bryce Gowdy’s tragic death.

Gowdy, a four-star receiver from Deerfield Beach, Florida, had verbally pledged to play at Georgia Tech.

He died by suicide on Dec. 30, 2019.

It’s believed he was despondent over leaving his mom and two siblings — they were without housing and were shuttling between motels and sleeping in their car — when he went to college.

Prescott narrates Long Live Seven: The Bryce “Simba” Gowdy Story, a short film that will be available Nov. 29 exclusively via The Undefeated on ESPN+, and he wanted to deliver an all-pro performance. The film focuses on mental health and the underreported topic of suicide among young Black men.

Prescott often asked the producer whether he was reading the script’s lines with the proper tone and voice inflection. When offered suggestions on when to emphasize certain words, Prescott followed her coaching.

He even memorized a short paragraph because he thought it would be more effective if he looked into the camera and said the words instead of reading them.

After a few takes, he nailed it. It was the least he could do for Gowdy.

“Bryce, his story resonated with me not just because I lost my brother to suicide, but also just understanding what it is to be a highly recruited athlete,” Prescott said. “When I heard the story, I just wanted to help.

“It hit me deep because I felt like if I would’ve been able to just talk to Bryce and maybe give Bryce some wisdom or just explain different situations in life, I could’ve helped him. I could’ve helped save his life and save his family.

“And I was incredibly moved by his mom and her carrying on his legacy by creating a Bryce Gowdy Foundation and making sure that he saves millions of lives through his story.”

That’s also Prescott’s mission these days.

He understands the power and influence that comes from being the quarterback for the most valuable franchise in sports.

The Cowboys are worth $6.5 billion, according to Forbes, and Prescott signed a four-year deal worth $160 million before the start of this season.

He’s also making millions as a spokesman for several companies, ranging from Beats by Dre to Sleep Number beds.

Still, he’s never forgotten that to whom much is given, much will be required.

“He knows he’s more than a football player,” his brother, Tad Prescott, said. “For Dak so early to find that platform and understand he’s bigger than a football player is important.

“I know my brother understands this game is not forever and that he has a purpose afterward.”

When Jace Prescott died by suicide in April 2020, his death shook Prescott and left him wondering whether he should’ve been a better brother. It left him searching for answers he’ll never find, and it left him overwhelmed and depressed.

“We talk every day. We try to talk to check in — again that mental thing,” said Prescott’s father, Nathaniel. “Me being 60-plus years old, I was raised that you don’t show your emotions.

“You have to be a strong Black man. I tried to make sure I curtailed that with them. It’s OK to cry. You need to cry.”

Prescott understands how folks can lose their battle with mental health because they can’t or won’t ask for help — and that it doesn’t matter how much money you make.

“What I want people to take from my story, mostly, is just the importance of being vulnerable, the importance of asking for help and understand that it’s OK to not be OK. That’s human,” Prescott said.

“And it doesn’t matter if you’re the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, or you’re a star high school kid that’s about to go to a D-I college, or if you’re a mom, a brother or a cousin. Whatever it is, whatever your job and situation is, these thoughts are real.

“These thoughts happen to everyone. And it’s just important to get that help, to seek that professional help and tell your friends and family what you’re going through.”

Prescott and his brothers lost their outlet when their mom, Peggy, died of cancer in 2013. It has taken them nearly a decade to figure out how to handle their troubles without her counsel.

“He’s somebody who’s becoming more vulnerable — not just with the public and media, but within his inner circle,” Tad Prescott said. “He’s made sure to talk with our friends about being more vulnerable.”

Folks dealing with mental health issues can find help in many ways. For some, it’s therapy — one-on-one or in a group — while others prefer to talk to friends or loved ones.

Prescott has had therapy before. He works regularly with a life coach.

Prescott’s occasional anxiety is not unique.

It’s why he worked with Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst and the NBA’s Kevin Love to design programs to help young people with mental health issues.

Prominent NFL players Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tennessee Titans’ A.J. Brown have each discussed their battles with depression publicly this season.

“The stigma has always been for so long that football players — men primarily — we’re not allowed to address our feelings and we’re supposed to be big men or manly men, and if something is bothering us, we’re supposed to keep it in,” Tad Prescott said. “When you have guys like Dak, guys like A.J. Brown and guys who are football players that kids and other men look up to and they’re being vulnerable and talking about their feelings, it’s huge.

“It allows that everyday man who’s sitting there watching a guy he idolizes [to] talk about how he feels and it lets him know that it’s OK to tell a person that you’re close to that something is not right.”

Prescott has the life most folks would dream about, but his life comes with anxiety and pressure just like everyone else’s.

Occasionally, he lacks confidence. That’s right. One of the NFL’s best quarterbacks sometimes lacks confidence.

“That’s part of being a human when things don’t go your way, sometimes your confidence wants to go up and down and you just have to remember who you are and how you got to be where you are,” Prescott said. “And I think it’s important just to, as I said, find that mental headspace that is suited to you.”

It’s a message he wishes he could’ve delivered to Bryce.

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.

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