There are only a few high-intensity professions that include hostile adversaries, a high threat of injury, and often unfriendly media attention. Not only are these professions difficult while performing—they have lingering effects in the home and when transitioning to new careers. The impact of this kind of mental stress on individuals and families among these groups is a common burden in high-stress careers that includes both first responders and professional NFL players.
As part of its effort to facilitate meaningful and impactful outreach programs with our customers and their communities, MILO Cognitive is bringing these groups together in the MILO training room to share and support each other’s efforts—and struggles—in mental health and resiliency in the face of adversity. Recently, former NFL players from Detroit met with our local LEO’s for a lively co-training event with MILO and Maestro Games, followed by a thoughtful discussion among the group.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton is one of many former collegiate athletes on the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office staff and was enthusiastic about the opportunity for collaboration over shared mental health concerns. “The discussion revealed the many personal and professional similarities that are shared: a commitment to our craft, being part of a team, belonging to something bigger than ourselves, and sacrificing in service of others,” explained the Sheriff. “We also share separation anxiety after retirement, emotional and mental impact of a career filled with stress and trauma. Finally, we affirmed our commitment to champion an effort to de-stigmatize behavioral health disorders and encourage all of us to seek support if needed and provide support as needed. I am very excited about future collaborative opportunities to spread the word.”
Though the frequency of engagement and the mission outcomes are obviously quite different, NFL players recognize and understand the stress that first responders face when immersed in crisis in a high-profile, high-expectation profession.
“The hardest part of the scenarios were the ones where you had to talk and de-escalate a tough situation,” said Eric Hipple, NFL Alumni/NFLPA member and former Detroit Lions quarterback. “In football, it is ‘act and react.’ Having to consider situational awareness and think about the consequences of actions would be akin to thinking about the fans, the refs, the next game ahead, and the media. That would be paralyzing in a football game. It was great watching the deputies work those situations, particularly the ones with mental health concerns.”
The Former NFL Players in Detroit come from the NFL Alumni and NFL Players Association chapters—both national organizations with the primary mission to raise funds for youth and community programs. NFLPA Chapter President and former Detroit Lion Tim Walton got to experience MILO in a pre-game practice, saying “the MILO training was an exceptionally eye-opening experience that revealed some biases I was unaware I had. The exercises allowed me to witness these imperfections and subjected me to the stressful similarities that Law Enforcement and NFL Athletes experience on a daily basis!”
The collaborative experience was especially impactful for Deputy Thomas Guynes, who happens to also be NFL Alumni. “The time spent with my peers from the NFL was an awesome one! Their willingness to see the job through our eyes and our readiness to receive their concerns, made for thoughtful and insightful exchange. In trying to bridge the gap, I feel giant steps were taken by both sides today.”
That gap—the present divide between some NFL players and the Law Enforcement profession—was what former Detroit Lion Center Larry Lee called ‘the elephant in the room.’ Agreeing on the stress of the job and the toll it takes on a person and their family made it possible to have those discussions, because everyone in the room was able to see each other as professionals doing the best they could to support their teammates on their respective ‘field’ of operations.
The shared MILO experience included a reset of the parasympathetic nervous system using The Last Maestro™, a virtual reality resilience technology offered by MILO as a necessary component of a holistic training program. Describing the experience as “unforgettable,” Sergeant Shane Bynum especially appreciated the “open conversation about details and experiences with being in law enforcement” and looks forward to future collaborations.
At the end of the day, players and deputies improved mutual awareness of mental health and their shared experiences. Mental fitness is beneficial in mitigating adverse stress responses and trauma, and building resilience strengthen the ability to perform, communicate, concentrate, and maintain stamina.
“It was great to see an organization like the NFL Alumni Association recognize and take steps toward building strong and sustainable relationships with First Responders,” said Deputy Austin Pearson. “We are at a time in history where communication and teamwork are of the utmost importance, so that we can come together as Americans and ensure that the path ahead is a road to victory for everyone.”
MILO Cognitive is a proud collaborator of the NFL Former Players of Detroit and Maestro Games SPC with their efforts in this crucial area of concern for law enforcement. To learn more about MILO Cognitive’s outreach programs, or for help facilitating an outreach event in your community, contact Dr. Joy VerPlanck.