Tony Jefferson Intercepts Depression and Bipolar for DBSA

By Jake Appleman

Baltimore, MD -- Not many professional athletes choose to raise awareness for depression and bipolar disorder, but for the second straight year Baltimore Ravens strong safety Tony Jefferson is doing just that.

With the words “beat depression” on his right cleat and “treat bipolar” on his left, Jefferson brought attention to mood disorders through the #MyCauseMyCleats campaign on Sunday. The Ravens beat the Lions, 44-20, and Jefferson, who came to the cause because of family members dealing with mental health challenges, made five tackles in his specialized kicks. Jefferson’s purple, green and gold Nikes will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to DBSA. Last year, Jefferson’s cleats raised $305. Jefferson’s shoes are currently available for auction by the NFL Foundation online until December 24.

“It’s just something I felt dearly about and I feel it doesn’t get enough attention and I want to bring some awareness to it,” Jefferson said over the phone the day before the game.

“It’s like a stroke of luck that’s just come to us,” Vicki Hoagland, President of the Roland Park (Maryland) DBSA Chapter, said. “I hope that we’ll have an opportunity to thank him for this.”

Hoagland has been active on the Roland Park chapter Facebook page, promoting Jefferson’s support by posting pictures and friending as many people as possible to help the campaign take off.

“Hopefully more people will be open to support group activity and the public at large may start to be willing to have conversations about these mood disorders,” said Hoagland.

“There’s various ways that we could help a lot more,” Jefferson said. “There are lot of people who don’t say anything when they’re going through these types of situations. We should get them to talk and be open about it.”

Hoagland, who boasts over twenty years experience facilitating mood disorder groups, is one of the people who is open and does talk about it.

“I have had a full life of chronic depression from the time I was in college until about fifteen years ago when my doctor and I went through a long hot summer experimenting with all kinds of combinations of antidepressants and mood stabilizers and finally came up with a good combination,” Hoagland said. “And I have been able to lead my life like a normal person as if I didn’t have a mood disorder.”

“I don’t feel like I have a mood disorder right now,” she added. “I guess you could you say it’s in remission.”

Hoagland uses her DBSA group as a way to keep tabs on her condition and as a forum to help others in need of self-care. Her husband Lou Borowicz even runs the Friends and Family group at Roland Park. Both of them, like Tony Jefferson, would like to see a world with less stigma attached to mood disorders.

“FiancÚs decide not to move forward with their plans—that’s the stigma of the illness,” Borowicz said. Hoagland sees the stigma at health fairs when people are afraid to approach her table.

“If we can create a situation where we learn to not separate mental illness from physical illness…that would lower the stigma quite a bit,” Borowicz said.  

An athlete like Tony Jefferson speaking out is a good step in that direction.

“Each person that’s willing to step out of their comfort zone is working to reduce stigma,” Hoagland said.

Jefferson is not only a role model for speaking out in support of those managing depression and bipolar disorder. As an undersized player who went undrafted after starring at the University of Oklahoma, his story is one of perseverance.

“Just stay strong,” Jefferson said. “Be your own critic. Listen to what people say. But don’t let their opinions change who you are… At the end of the day when you look in the mirror you want to be able to say you gave it all got―and stay focused.”

Jefferson has already given thought to helping the cause after his playing days are over, possibly building an outreach program.

“Something I’m brewing in my mind,” he said. “Obviously, I gotta talk to the right people to get it going, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.”

The 25-year-old Jefferson signed with the Ravens in 2017 after playing four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. At 7-5, the Ravens are currently in position to make the playoffs.

“That’s huge,” Hoagland said of Jefferson’s stance in support of those fighting mental illness. “It means a lot to us.”

 For more information about depression and bipolar mood disorders, or to find a support group near you, visit www.DBSAlliance.org.