Everson Griffen has not revealed exactly what led him to this moment. But whatever it was, it has caused the big, strong, Pro Bowl defensive end to seek help for something he freely admits is “bigger than football."

Griffen returned to the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday and, like many other high-profile athletes, he explained his five-week absence from the team, saying he had used it to learn “a lot about the man outside of football.” He offered no details on reported incidents that led to his hiatus or treatment, but he plans to use his platform to help others who may be struggling to maintain mental health.

“If you are, you know, you need to ask for help,” Griffen said in a news conference. “You need to go out there and find a good support team and do the right things to be able to take care of yourself. That’s what it’s all about. Take care of yourself and take care of your actions and doing the right things.”

Across the NFL and other sports, athletes are being increasingly public about their struggles. In August, Steve Smith Sr. — one of the toughest wide receivers in recent NFL history — discussed his battle with depression, and Brian Dawkins said in his Hall of Fame induction speech that his deepest days of depression led him to consider methods of suicide that would allow his family to collect on his life insurance. Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale said in February that he had considered suicide and opened up about the physical, mental and sexual abuse he experienced as a child.

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps called on the U.S. Olympic Committee to do more to help athletes last spring, saying that, because of depression, he “straight up wanted to die.” The NBA’s Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan opened up about their struggles, while the NFL’s Brandon Marshall, who was one of the first mental health advocates among athletes, has called raising awareness “the civil rights issue of our era.”

“[Seeking treatment] was the right thing for me,” Griffen said. “Completely. One hundred percent. … I learned a lot about the man outside of football. I had a lot of time to reflect on my life and where I want to go, and the decisions I made. I just want to get better with some of the decisions I’ve made.”

Griffen had been listed on the injury report with “not football related” as the explanation for his absence, and it isn’t clear whether he will play Sunday night against the Saints, according to Coach Mike Zimmer. “I feel good,” Griffen said. “I was able to work out, but this game requires more than just working out. I’m able to play football, but I still have to get back in the pass-rush flow and my run flow and stuff like that.”

Life for Griffen, at least as it pertains to his occupation, is back to normal now. “It was awesome, man,” Griffen said of getting back to work. “Just getting back to life in general; driving my car, doing all the little things. You’ve got to appreciate the little things in life. I appreciate the little things in life. … Every day is a blessing. You got to be grateful. I’m just excited to be back here.”

A series of alleged incidents on Sept. 22 alarmed Griffen’s family and the Vikings. According to a Minneapolis police incident report, officers responded to a downtown Minneapolis hotel after Griffen allegedly threatened employees and lay on the lobby floor. He was not arrested or accused of a crime, but said he wants “to take full responsibility for my actions that went on in September. I had a lot of support from my family, the Minnesota Vikings, the doctors, my teammates, the fans and, you know, I want to give my apologies to people I impacted.

"I’m sorry if I affected them in any type of way. I’m just excited to get back here with my team and get back to the grind of things. It’s been hard to be away, but I’m happy to be back. It’s a good feeling right now, and I’m taking one day at a time and one thing at a time to get things back on track.”

If acknowledging mental health issues and raising awareness is new territory for players, coaches are adjusting, too.

“I don’t want to get into too much, but I bet you there are people in this room who have had to deal with these kinds of issues as well,” Zimmer told reporters (via the Star Tribune). “Everybody in life has probably had to deal with these different types of issues that aren’t necessarily [injuries].

“I know people, doctors, all the experts help with these situations. I don’t think this is as unique as we’re making it out to be. This is an illness, and he’s done a good job of helping to get better, and continues to try to get better. He’s probably going to have to continue to do that just like we all have to do in life.”

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