Iowa Football

Iowa's Sean Welsh remains open, unafraid on topic of his depression

'I'd like to be kind of a resource for a team'

Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman Sean Welsh speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center on Thursday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman Sean Welsh speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center on Thursday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — If I were an NFL team, I’d draft Sean Welsh on forthrightness alone.

Last summer, the former Iowa offensive lineman opened up about his struggles with depression. You rarely see this in sports, where often vulnerabilities are counted against you.

You had to wonder where the NFL would go with this. Welsh found open ears.

“Everybody has been very receptive,” Welsh said. “I think I’ve been very forthright with my experience. It’s something, I think is a real crisis in this country.

“You look at a lot of recent events, it’s a big issue, a hot-button issue, just mental health in general. I’d like to be someone who can bring that kind of perspective to a locker room because people are sensitive talking about it and guys, it’s something that I’ve had teammates at Iowa talk to me.

“I’d like to be kind of a resource for a team, in a way.”

Welsh has been completely open with NFL teams.

“I basically give them a full rundown of my history,” Welsh said. “The list of medication I’m on, what I do to manage it. Just to show them I’m on top of it and it’s something that I do manage and have managed for some time.”

When Welsh missed spring practice in 2015, I learned it was because of depression. Remember how yesterday when reporters asked Iowa basketball player Tyler Cook if he was leaving Iowa, moments after the Hawkeyes’ season ended in the Big Ten tournament? Remember how some fans bristled at the question?

I would never have asked Welsh that question. Too personal. None of my business. Questions about a possible transfer? In the moments after a season-ending defeat? If you want to know stuff, you have to ask stuff. Transfer and depression, if you can’t separate the weight of those topics, then I guess this conversation is over.

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Last summer, Welsh wrote an Op-Ed piece that ran in newspapers across the state. Every Tuesday during the football season, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz does his news conference from the same spot. Welsh stood there and answered questions about his illness.

Here’s an excerpt from his story:

Now I know that some of you reading this will ask — “What in the world does a college athlete like Sean Welsh have to be depressed about?”

It’s a fair question but one that shouldn’t be skewed by things like the number of career starts or postseason honors. The simple truth is that it doesn’t matter if it’s on the football field, in the classroom or in a corporate office — success doesn’t immunize you from depression.

Thursday, Welsh, a native of Springboro, Ohio, was asked what his year was like after that day in July.

“It’s been very cathartic for me,” Welsh said. “Being able to come forward and, for me, I’ve always wanted to do something more than football and play football.

“This has kind of been something that has become a purpose for me in my life, shedding light on the issue and sharing my story. Whatever I can do to kind of move the ball forward in the discussion.”

Extra points for the football metaphor. Well done, sir. Hey, we are, after all, at the NFL combine.

Teams do their homework. This was a national headline last summer. Welsh timed this news perfectly, talking just before Big Ten media days. It’s a dry moment on the sports calendar, so Welsh’s story grabbed huge headlines.

He really does want to move the ball forward here.

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“They’ll ask you if you missed any time, and I’ll bring up the spring of 2015 when I was away from the team,” Welsh said. “That’s when I’ll get into my deal with mental illness. They do their homework. I was gone for an entire spring. What I’m trying to do is be proactive and letting them know it’s something that I went through and it’s something that I manage.”

Welsh is more than managing this. He’s moving the ball forward.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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