Erick McNair


Marcus Smith II’s story is one of resilience, transformation, and advocacy. From his early days as a high school football star in Georgia to his professional career in the NFL, Marcus achieved remarkable success on the field. However, behind the accolades and victories, he faced profound mental health challenges that threatened his life. Today, Marcus is leveraging his platform to champion mental health awareness and support, particularly among athletes. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this article delves into Marcus’s journey and his work as a Global Brand Ambassador with mind-body health company, All Points North (APN).

Early Life and Football Career

Marcus’s Story: The Road to the NFL

Marcus’s journey began in Georgia, where he excelled in high school football. He played quarterback at Hardaway High School, passing for more than 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also rushing for 227 yards and four touchdowns. As a senior, he was selected to the 2009 AAAA All-Region Second-team. Despite his success as a quarterback, Marcus transitioned to a defensive position in college at the University of Louisville—a change that required immense mental strength and adaptability. Despite the challenges, he thrived in his new role, earning accolades such as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and a third-team All-American pick. Despite his success, Marcus struggled with anxiety and depression, which followed him throughout his career.

Professional Football Career 

Marcus entered the 2014 NFL Draft with high expectations following a stellar college career. He was selected in the first round, 26th overall, by the Philadelphia Eagles, a selection that was a testament to his exceptional talent and potential as a linebacker. Over the course of his professional career, he played for several teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Football Team. 

Struggles with Mental Health – Personal Challenges and Turning Points

Despite the outward success and accolade that came with being a first-round pick, Marcus faced profound personal challenges. The pressures of professional sports, combined with personal issues, led to a period of deep depression. In a candid revelation, Smith shared his battle with suicidal thoughts, highlighting the often unseen mental health struggles that athletes can face. “I never had anyone to actually talk to about what I was going to deal with as a pro. I was dealing with anxiety and depression for a long time before I knew what it actually was,” Marcus revealed.

Thanks to the support of his wife and mother, he sought help and entered treatment at APN Lodge. There, Marcus learned to address the root causes of his depression and anxiety, gaining the tools necessary for his recovery. “One of the things I learned was positive self-talk and breathing exercises and then also meditation… I had to practice those things I learned and continued therapy. This is not something that is going to go away; it’s a journey and something you have to face and continue to conquer every day,” Marcus shared. This period marked a significant turning point in his life, as he sought help and began his journey toward mental health recovery.

Marcus Finds His Advocacy with APN

As APN’s Global Ambassador, Marcus Smith II uses his platform to inspire others to prioritize their mental health. An old teammate introduced Marcus to APN, leading to a life-changing experience. “An old teammate told me about APN, and I was just blown away when he told me, that’s what I need I need something like that and I had an opportunity to come out here for 30 days. It was hard leaving my kids, but I wanted to heal.”

Marcus Smith II’s advocacy is deeply connected to All Points North’s innovative approach to mental health treatment. At APN Lodge, he benefited from a range of therapies and modalities designed to address the unique needs of athletes and others struggling with mental health issues. 

These included personalized individual therapy sessions as well as group therapy, which provided a supportive environment for Marcus and other individuals to share their experiences and build a sense of community. Marcus highlighted, “When I stepped in and I saw other people having conversations and talking about some of the same stuff I’m dealing with, I’m like I can’t be quiet anymore, I gotta get this off of me.”

Couples therapy also helped Marcus open up more to his wife, improving their communication and strengthening their relationship. “I used to tell my wife I don’t know what this is, but I don’t want to deal with this pain anymore,” he confessed. These therapies gave Marcus a holistic approach to healing and enabled him to learn how to communicate his innermost thoughts with the people closest to him and even strangers going through their own healing journeys.

Promoting Alternative Approaches to Medicine – A New Approach to Athlete Health

In recent years, the issue of opioid addiction has become a significant concern, especially among professional athletes who were often prescribed these medications for pain management. According to a 2020 study, 52% of NFL players use opioids during their careers, and 71% of those players misuse them. This is three times the rate of opioid use in the general population. A 2020 University of Florida study found that half of former NFL players who used opioids early in retirement were still using them nine years later. Opioid addiction has been linked to numerous negative outcomes, including exacerbated mental health issues and abnormal behavior.

All Points North offers an alternative approach to managing both physical and mental health, focusing on non-addictive treatments and therapies. By serving as a global ambassador for All Points North, Marcus Smith II is championing this new way of thinking about health. He advocates for treatments that address the root causes of pain and mental health challenges without the risks associated with opioid use. This approach not only helps in managing physical pain but also supports overall mental well-being, aligning with a more holistic and sustainable model of athlete health care.

Marcus’s role as an advocate for mental health and his work with APN highlights the need for comprehensive and holistic health care solutions. His efforts align with EVERFI’s educational module on Black contributions in medicine, emphasizing the importance of having a diverse approach to health care. By promoting mental health awareness and supporting innovative treatment methods, Marcus contributes to a broader understanding of wellness that includes both mental and physical health.

Mental Health as a Pillar of Social Justice

Addressing mental health challenges is intrinsically linked to social justice. Mental health disparities often disproportionately affect marginalized communities, including African Americans and professional athletes who may face unique stressors and stigmas. Historically, mental health has been a taboo subject, particularly within the Black community and among athletes. Marcus’s openness about his struggles and his advocacy work help to normalize these conversations, making it easier for others to seek help without fear of judgment.

By promoting mental health awareness and education, Marcus’s work aligns with the broader goals of the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, which aims to empower communities through education, economic advancement, and improved community relations. Mental health is a foundational aspect of these goals, as it enables individuals to thrive, contribute to their communities, and build stronger, healthier relationships.

Conclusion and Call to Action

Sharing Marcus’s Story

Marcus Smith II’s journey from professional athlete to mental health advocate highlights the transformative power of seeking help and raising awareness. His work with All Points North is making a significant impact, encouraging others to prioritize their mental health and break the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Teachers can play a crucial role in this movement by sharing Marcus’s story with their students. Utilizing EVERFI’s 306: Continuing the Story module, educators can inspire students to recognize the importance of diversity in healthcare and understand that Black contributions to medicine are ongoing and impactful.

Inspiring the Next Generation

By incorporating Marcus’s story into their curriculum, teachers can help students appreciate the vital role of mental health in overall well-being and the significance of diverse voices in healthcare. This educational approach not only honors past contributions but also empowers students to be part of a more inclusive and compassionate future in medicine.



All Points North. (n.d.). Marcus Smith II: Global ambassador. All Points North.

APN. (2022, October 20). Finding identity outside of football and depression: Recovery x Marcus Smith II [Video]. YouTube.

Bell, G. (2017, October 4). Smith getting second chance on Seahawks defensive line. Kitsap Sun.

Domowitch, P. (2020, October 15). Former Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith II opens up about his struggles with depression. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mannes, Z. L. (2020, September 16). Study tackles long-term opioid use among retired NFL players. Medical Xpress. Retrieved from

Smith, M. (2020, October 14). I’m Still Here. The Players Tribune

Stuart, A. (2018, March 20). Former Hardaway star Marcus Smith living dream with NFL’s Seahawks. Ledger-Enquirer.

Superville, D. R. (2021, November 14). NFL players work to break down mental health stigma. AP News.

Wamsley, L. (2022, January 18). Marcus Smith II, former Eagles linebacker, transforms mental health struggles. WHYY.


About the Author: 

Erick, a Senior Manager on the Customer Marketing team at EVERFI, holds a master’s degree in Sports Management from Georgetown University. With over a decade of experience in the sports and media sector, Erick has cultivated a deep-seated passion for making a meaningful difference in marginalized or underrepresented communities. Before joining EVERFI, Erick worked for Events DC, Washington, DC’s Sports & Convention Authority. He now supports EVERFI’s sports partnerships team, spearheading marketing and event initiatives that engage students around critical topics including character education, mental wellness, and STEM.