BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Jordan Poyer understands the mental health challenges facing the Western New York community. He has lived here for seven years, battling personal demons while playing for the Bills. Harrowing experiences came to define the past year for Poyer and his teammates, along with the region they represent.
“It really just shows a lot about the type of people that are here,” Poyer said Tuesday before accepting the Advocacy Award at the Mental Health Advocates Annual Dinner at The Powerhouse. “Truly honored to be standing here amongst a lot of really great people.”
Poyer was recognized at a banquet for about 400 guests where the theme was “inspiring change.” Organizers praised Poyer for acknowledging his issues with mental health and alcohol addiction in recent years, leveraging his popularity in a city enamored with its football team to inspire introspection and openness throughout the community.
“He really is a role model for a lot of folks,” said Melinda DuBois, executive director for MHA. “So him publicly stating that he struggles with his own mental health is huge for our community.”
“What we’re really encouraging people to do is be able to talk about their own personal struggles,” DuBois said. “The more we talk about it, the less stigmatized it is. So we’re really honoring Jordan for his willingness to speak out.”
Poyer pointed to “the true heroes” providing behavioral health care at Erie County Medical Center and other local facilities, “who need someone like myself to be able to come and stand up to the stigma and let people know that it is OK. It is OK to ask for help. It is OK to accept that you have an issue, that there is something deep going on.”
When sports figures who are seen as larger than life share mental health struggles, it helps to normalize the difficulties many others are facing, DuBois said.
“We know somebody who had heard that Jordan Poyer had quit drinking,” she said, “and really reflected on their own alcohol use and decided they were going to quit, too, that it was a problem for them.”
Stigmas surrounding mental health are more prevalent with young males, and athletes in particular, according to DuBois.
“There is just this sense of being strong and powering through it,” she said. “But I think what we learned this year, especially with Damar Hamlin’s accident on the field, is that a lot of people have trauma. And we witnessed that trauma on the field.”
Poyer emphasized a number of times that “it’s OK to ask somebody for help.”
“We all go through things,” he said. “Whether it is a friend or a teammate, brother or sister, it doesn’t matter. I think a lot of us have this stigma that we have to hold on to something. I don’t want to look like this — that’s our ego talking. I don’t want to be embarrassed to tell my friends I have an issue, whatever it is.”
“I’m here to continue to shed light,” Poyer concluded. “To be that light for this community.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.