There has long been a stigma when it comes to men’s mental health. Traditionally, men are taught to be tough and not show their emotions.
J.J. Weaver has a message: “You can be tough, but you’re still going to cry.”
Weaver, a redshirt junior and star outside linebacker for the Kentucky Wildcats, has had to battle and overcome on and off the field the last two years.
Following a redshirt season in 2019, Weaver’s father, Terrance Weaver, was murdered during a home robbery in June 2020. In response, J.J. poured everything he had into football to distract himself from the pain and grief.
But nine games into an impressive season, Weaver suffered a torn ACL.
Without football, Weaver no longer had that primary emotional outlet and was faced with the challenges of grieving the loss of his father while coming back from a major knee injury.
“I wasn’t myself,” said Weaver during last week’s media day. “It took me a while to open up. I couldn’t play football and my father just got killed. I am a young black man, and I was going through it.”
Through the pain and hurt, Weaver felt the need to reach out. He left pride aside and did just that.
“One night, it really hit me. I was crying in my room and I called Coach White [Brad] at 3 o’clock in the morning. I needed to talk to somebody,” said Weaver.
With Weaver open to receiving help, the Kentucky staff was able to get Weaver into therapy and helped him find a therapist he related with, which greatly helped him cope with the trauma he had endured.
Along with a professional therapist, Weaver noted that he leaned on former teammate Josh Paschal, who overcame a cancer diagnosis during his time at Kentucky.
“He [Paschal] took me underneath his wing... He took me to church sometimes, just knowing what I was going through. He had to work on his mental health just as I was.”
Still attending therapy, Weaver is in a much better place emotionally and is now able to reflect and is an advocate for mental health.
“I wish everybody would just talk to somebody,” Weaver said. “A lot of my friends back home, they don’t know how to cope with things.”
Weaver has also made it a point to use his experience and to help his teammates, saying, “They know, and I tell them, ‘Talk to me if you need anything. Just talk to me. I’m here for you.’”
Weaver made his return to the field last season, being named the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year and Third-Team All-SEC by Phil Steele, but was still missing some of his explosiveness.
This Spring, Weaver took off his knee brace for the first time since his injury and defensive coordinator Brad White took note.
“You can see that that twitch is back, that that pop he had pre-injury... You see him brimming with confidence,” White said.
With the amount of talent on the roster and Will Levis behind center, the Wildcats have high expectations for this season, and so does Weaver. Calling this defense the best the Wildcats have had since 2018, Weaver will continue to be a defensive leader and aims to break Josh Allen’s sack record.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please talk to someone and seek help. If you are unsure where to start, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
In addition to Weaver’s media day conversation, he also sat down with UK Healthcare, which you watch below.