Hall of Fame Profile: Mental Health Awareness is Personal for John Abraham

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You have to admire a guy like John Abraham (1996-1999). Not only because he was a dreaded pass runner that led him to be one of 10 to be inducted into the University of South Carolina Track and Field Hall of Fame on October 14, but because that he had the courage to seek help for a social anxiety disorder that affected him much of his life.

“I’ve struggled with social anxiety and a lot of other anxious things so I think this will be the first time I go out and hang out with people and try to be free and talk and open up to people, ”said Abraham, who divides his time between Atlanta and Columbia. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to talk and really be with people, so hopefully this will be a party out so I can start coming to more games and being more social with the locals. from South Carolina.

“I didn’t want people to think I didn’t want to be there. When you are suffering from things you can’t control, it’s hard to explain to people when my mind and body are acting differently than I want to. . This has been a problem my whole life, but with football you sometimes had a way out. I had no problem talking to reporters, but attending big events was difficult. I missed a lot of events throughout my life and a lot of things people have asked me for. “

Seeking treatment and learning Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) put him on a better path.

“I learned about CBT and DBT, and if I’m able to get through this event, it will be important to me,” Abraham said. “It should be really good.”

Abraham encourages others with such issues to seek help and is happy to see the removal of any stigma associated with seeking help with his mental health.

“Just know that you are worthy,” Abraham said. “You deserve the praise or the attention you get. For me, I didn’t feel worthy, and that’s something I want people to feel for themselves. It’s going to be difficult sometimes. They have a lot. of treatments now that people can work. You don’t have to be the life of the party, but you really have more people who want to see you than you think. I know what it is now, so now this is something i really have to work on.

“Back then, we weren’t as much about mental health as we do today. I always thought I was just a scared person, and with social anxiety, you think nobody wants to. you there anyway. I always thought if I was going to something, I couldn’t talk to anyone and they wouldn’t want me there. It was so scary. In fact, I wanted to be surrounded by more people. I missed so many awards shows and banquets that I could have attended. I think people maybe lost respect for me because they thought I didn’t want to be there .

Abraham did not have a typical path to greatness on the grill. Born in Timmonsville, South Carolina, he was best known early on as a debutant at Lamar High School where he set the state record in the 200-meter. He didn’t play organized football until his senior year, and this was mainly due to the fact that he was competitive with his girlfriend.

“I was trying to get more accolades in the yearbook,” Abraham said with a laugh. “I was entering my senior year, I had played track and field and basketball, and I thought I needed more. My girlfriend at the time had more accolades than I did!

“I was shocked when I was recruited to play football. When you don’t play sports for a long time you don’t quite know how to play and which colleges are watching you. I started getting recruited late, like during basketball season. It was definitely a life-changing moment. I remember sitting in the dining room, and everyone was saying (then South Carolina coach) Brad Scott is here, and I was like, who the hell is Brad Scott? I was still getting ready for basketball when he arrived and surprised me signing myself in South Carolina. ”

“You really know why you are in South Carolina when you play Clemson.”

His natural athleticism made him a threat to opposing backfields as he totaled 23.5 sacks during his Gamecock career, while leading the team in the sacks in all four seasons. He won second-team All-SEC honors in 1999.

“Some of my best memories, including making my first start in freshman, playing Georgia and getting my first sack, and also playing Clemson and getting a sack there,” Abraham said. “When you play Clemson it’s a whole different kind of game. You really know why you are in South Carolina when you play Clemson.”

Abraham was selected in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. He then played 15 seasons in the NFL with the Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, and played in five Pro Bowls. He’s also the Falcons’ all-time career leader in the sacks.

“Going to the NFL from college, all of a sudden you have more time,” Abraham said of his transition to professional play. “The speed is different and you’re dealing with grown men. The most important thing was just trying to find something to do with your time. In college you have classes on top of everything. In the NFL, in the NFL, you’re done at 3 am and you don’t have study rooms or anything like that. “

Abraham retired in 2014, and now enjoys spending time with his three daughters aged 20, 12 and 5.

“I’m just trying to spend time with my family and work on my mental health,” Abraham said. “I don’t think it’s difficult to make that transition from football, but you absolutely have to make a plan. You should always plan four or five years in advance to know where you are going. I played for 15 years. , and I was lucky that I raised enough money that I didn’t have to rush into a job. So I can take my time, travel and enjoy life with people. “

He was part of the SEC Legends 2017 class, which includes former league football players and was honored at events surrounding the SEC Championship game that year, and when he got the call from South Carolina about his Hall of Fame honor, he was relieved.

“I’m not going to lie, that was one of my big goals in life,” Abraham said. “I was happy. I got the call from (Special Assistant to the Sports Director) Charles Waddell, and I was like, I’m ready! “

Abraham can’t wait to be back on campus and share his experience with his daughters.

“Now that I am getting older, I want to create memories for my children,” he said.

“When I come to town I see how nice things are on campus. They do a great job. The things we have to offer now are so good. Love going through the new trail there now. . The stadium is so much nicer, and the (Dodie Anderson) Academic (Enrichment) Center is beautiful. “

This year’s Hall of Fame class includes Abraham, Mike Durrah and Connor shaw of football, Michael Roth of baseball, Scotti Ward of men’s basketball, Brantley Southers and head coach Nancy Wilson of women’s basketball, Ron Willis of track and field, volleyball coach Kim (Hudson) Williams and athletic director , Dr. Mike McGee.

They will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 14 and recognized at the South Carolina-Vanderbilt football game on Saturday, October 16.


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