Mike Wiley

Most NFL teams contract workers for player mental health. Bears have 2 on staff

 The Chicago Bears are incorporating more than just a focus on players’ physical condition

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Jumping into the National Football League is a lifelong dream for many in the draft class of 2023. Doing so comes with challenges -- not only physically, but mentally.

“For a lot of guys they’re at their new team the following day and then they’re practicing a week after they’re drafted,” said Bears’ Director of Mental Skills and Performance Mike Wiley, who joined the team full-time in 2022. “It doesn’t give you a lot of time to find a place to live, acclimate yourself to your new environment and to just kind of learn what the future is going to look like."

The focus of Wiley's job, along with that of Bears Director of Wellness Carla Suber, who joined the team full-time in 2020, is on players’ mental health.

“They go through typical life things that we do,” Suber said. “It’s just that they do theirs in front of a camera and it gets reported.”

Although the NFL is mandated to have clinicians like Suber, there are only six similar workers in the league that are full time staff members, Suber says. But that's slowly changing.

“I think coaches, GM’s, player personnel staff, scouts, they’re all beginning to recognize that the mind is an important part of performance,” Wiley said. “It’s an integral part of performance.”

It’s especially vital during a unique time in everyone’s lives.

“Coming out of the pandemic and all of the social injustice that we witnessed,” Suber added. "[It was] one of those rare times in life where, as a collective, we all experienced the same thing, it just resonated with us differently and I think that brought to the forefront, how are we taking care of not only each other, but ourselves."

That is their focus—to support players whether they’re just coming into the league, or are a veteran on the team.

“The mind essentially is like a gateway to accessing your full talent,” Wiley said.

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