Former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman and Long Island nonprofit team up to promote mental health awareness

The retired NFL pro will share his personal experiences witnessing addiction.

Former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman is teaming up with Long Island nonprofit Options Community Living to promote mental health awareness.

Former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman is teaming up with Long Island nonprofit Options Community Living to promote mental health awareness. Image courtesy of Indra Public Relations

When former New York Jets safety Erik Coleman and Yolanda Robano-Gross, CEO of the Long Island nonprofit, Options for Community Living, met at an event benefiting nonprofits earlier this year, the two hit it off over the issue of mental health. They decided to team up to promote the work Options does for those struggling with mental health. 

Coleman had personal experience on the subject, and wasn’t like some who might get involved because it was trendy. “You meet someone like Erik, who's been through the process and can identify with family members that I have, because he's been there,” Robano-Gross said. “He knows what it's like to be a kid who's trying to establish themselves, and due to addiction, and due to circumstances, may not have the support needed.”

Growing up in Spokane, Washington, Coleman witnessed mental health issues in his family and in his neighborhood where addiction was common. He later joined the NFL in 2004 and played for the New York Jets, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Detroit Lions. However, when he retired in 2013, he faced a big adjustment to life outside of the football field.

“I was always identified as Erik, the football player,” Coleman told New York Nonprofit Media. “When I was done playing football, it was like, okay, what am I now? You don't know what you are, you don't know your worth in this world, you don't know what you can do besides play football. And so a lot of guys go into a depression.”

Coleman recalled the NFL had a mentor program where older retirees help the newer retirees transition to their new life and wanted to see both work with Options because many share his background and face the same mental health issues. 

Options works with not only those with mental health struggles but also those living with HIV/AIDS and long-term physical health problems. Many of the people the nonprofit has helped also were homeless. The 42-year-old nonprofit’s mission is to help anyone who comes to them and help them find a stable way of living, with employment and improved health.

“It's a real blessing nowadays,” Coleman told NYN. “Because a lot of people like to cast people to the side, and Options welcomes people with open arms and gives them a chance to restart their lives.”

Robano-Gross said she hopes that Coleman's involvement with the nonprofit will bring attention to those who struggle every day and that recognition will be given to the Options staff who help them. For now, Coleman’s specific role at the nonprofit remains to be determined. Whether it is as a board member or as a volunteer, he will likely work closely with Robano-Gross.

“I got to play in the NFL, I got to do all these wonderful things in my life,” Coleman said. “But what good is reaching those levels, If you can't reach back and help people that need some help…so I’m all in. I love being a part of it.”