Last year was a struggle for players across the NFL, thanks to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the season was especially trying for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Chris Wormley, who was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Steelers in March 2020, just as the magnitude of the global health crisis was coming into focus. Then he suffered an injury during training camp, one that lingered into the season. Making matters worse, he suffered a knee injury against the Tennessee Titans in October, which led to a three-week stint on injured reserve, all of which compromised his on-field performance and left his NFL future in doubt.
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‘The Most Important Thing You Can Try to Work On’
On Thursday, Wormley talked about his struggles during a mental health panel discussion held in conjunction with Pittsburgh Public Schools—a panel that also included Carnegie Mellon softball coach Monica Harrison and University of Pittsburgh volleyball player Chinaza Ndee.
“It might be the most important thing you can try to work on,” said Wormley, referring to mental health. “If you are not mentally well, it can affect everything else in your life…. Mental health was not something I liked to talk about until my wife pressed me a little bit, trying to talk more about it with me. It kind of opened me up a little bit. I was more guarded with my feelings. She would ask how I was feeling, and I would just say ‘I am good.’ I would give the easy answer instead of giving some thought to it…. You have to normalize talking about it and feel comfortable discussing these topics.”
Wormley admits that he didn’t necessarily handle last year’s challenges as well as he would have liked, but that the experience was beneficial.
“There were a lot of times where I had a piss-poor attitude when it came to feeling rejected by the Ravens, being locked down in a pandemic and on top of that, going to a new team,” he told ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “Just a lot of stress. On top of that, being hurt, that add[ed] a whole other level of anxiety and unknown. … Just a lot of things that have happened over the last year or so that’s really made me challenge myself and challenge my mental health. I think it’s made me a better person.”
‘I Really Didn’t Think I Was Going to be Back’
Of course, the mental strain did not let up after the 2020 season ended. In fact, the stress of being an unrestricted free agent presented a whole new challenge.
“It was a three-month process of a waiting game,” said Wormley, as related by Steelers.com. “I really didn’t think I was going to be back [with the Steelers],” he added, his concerns no doubt exacerbated by the fact that he registered just eight total tackles and one sack in 13 games last year.
But shortly after fellow defensive lineman Tyson Alualu agreed to terms with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers signed Wormley to a two-year contract, giving him a chance to continue his career with the team that sent a fifth-round pick to an AFC North rival to acquire him.
The organization is no doubt thrilled, too, as defensive line remains the strongest position on the team, featuring three of the Top 32 linemen in the league in Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Alualu. They are all part of an enviable mix of proven veterans and promising young talent, including fourth-round draft pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, aka ‘Big Tree.’
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