Leo Hayden

Trust Spotlights

Leo Hayden


Leo Hayden fondly remembers the exact moment he was announced as the number one draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 1971. After being a standout running back at Ohio State University, he recalls his NFL career looked bright as one of the top college players in the country.

Hayden’s NFL career ended in 1973 when addiction and mental health battles disrupted his football career indefinitely. After decades of hardship and cyclical life disruptions, he now dedicates his life to sharing his journey and struggles to help current and Former Players get the help they need.

Unlike today where Hayden sees both current and Former Players as having an outlet to get support for both addiction and mental health struggles, he felt like there was nowhere for him to turn fifty years ago to get productive help. “We didn't have these types of services available to us at the time, and we were afraid to say anything about it or do anything about it,” he recalled, “so the best thing to do was to keep it to yourself."

When Hayden heard about what The Trust had to offer in terms of mental health services, he knew he needed to reach out. Immediately, he felt understood and supported by his Program Manager. “For me, talking to somebody that made me feel comfortable and who treated me like I was somebody allowed me to put my trust in The Trust.”

Reach out to those individuals who are offering opportunities like The Trust. I challenge Former Players to make sure they understand that mental health resources not only help them but help their families and everybody else who is operating in the shadows.

Photo Credit - AP

Working with his Program Manager and determining what resources would be the best fit for his needs, they both decided that the Menninger Clinic was the correct choice. Entering the Menninger Clinic, Hayden’s goal was to show up and participate. “They say closed mouth don't get fed,” he said. Throughout his journey, he has worked to keep an open and honest relationship with those helping him. “I saw what Menninger had to offer, and I saw it was something that I could use for my own health and needs,” he said, “so I got involved wholeheartedly.”

Thirty days into his stay at the Menninger Clinic, Hayden said it has been one of the best treatment experiences he has ever undergone. “I needed something like this for a long time, he said, “and if I had it, I probably would have done much better and been much more prolific than what I was able to be at that particular point in time.”

Photo Credit - Philip Stelly

I found things offered through The Trust that I needed and that they could make happen for me. That's what you need to do: you need to make the connection and work with them.

Photo Credit - Philip Stelly

What distinguished his experience at the Menninger Clinic from other past experiences was his ability to connect with other Former Players in treatment and to have his mental health and substance abuse needs addressed simultaneously.

“I've had the opportunity to participate with Former Players, such as myself, who have come here for the same reason that I came here.” The ability to immediately have a “bond” with other Former Players gave Hayden the opportunity to feel understood and seen from the beginning. “I hope to stay in touch with these brothers,” he said, “I want to make sure that whatever we do we help one another to move forward,” both for themselves and “for the ballplayers who are out there that need to be connected to something like this.”

While his time at the Menninger Clinic is not his first-time receiving treatment, he sees this time as different. “I’ve had other episodes of substance abuse and mental health treatment and have failed in some of those opportunities because I didn't have the right attitude when I went in.” He has never given up, however, and tells other Former Players to keep coming back for help and never to lose faith in their recovery journeys.

Hayden said the Menninger Clinic distinguishes itself from other places because of its integrated approach of treating mental health and substance abuse concurrently. “They asked that question, ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ but with substance abuse and mental health you don’t ask that question,” he said. The Menninger Clinic is exactly what he needed to address both simultaneously.

I think I’m probably more valuable now as I tell this story than I was when I was playing in the NFL. I believe that if I'm able to tell the story and have other players hear it, then maybe they can also get help.

Hayden’s biggest piece of advice for other Former Players is simple: open up to the people at The Trust. “You have to be able to tell your story,” he said, “and if you can do that, I think that they'll be able to give you the same sort of opportunity that they've given me.”

He knows the Menninger Clinic will continue to impact him and improve him well after he leaves. I look forward to continuing to participate in some of the things that they've got going on, especially as it relates to substance abuse and mental health services.”

Photo Credit - AP

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