Eagles feature

Kelce explains emotion telling Johnson about Man of Year nomination

Lane Johnson is the Eagles' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee, which means a lot to him and one of his oldest teammates.

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By now you’ve probably seen the emotional scene that played out in the offensive line room back on Oct. 11 when Lane Johnson found out he was the Eagles’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

An emotional Jason Kelce got choked up explaining to Johnson why he’s so worthy of the honor.

This week, Kelce got to explain why it means so much to see Johnson get his due.

“I think that Lane has been a very under appreciated player in the league for a long time and I think in particular I think he’s not as out in the open or boisterous a personality but I think some of the things he’s overcome and persevered through has helped a lot more people than people realize,” Kelce said. 

“Just speaking first-hand, people who have come to up to me. Have said make sure you tell Lane how much I appreciate him being open and honest. I think it’s very apparent what he means to a lot of people in this city and across the country. Certainly this building. I think that it was just how I feel.”

A big reason Johnson is the Eagles’ nominee this year is the way he’s publicly dealt with his mental health struggles and has used his own experience to help countless others — NFL players and regular folks alike — deal with their own problems.

During the 2021 season, Johnson took a three-game leave of absence to deal with his mental health issues after trying to quit antidepressants led to severe withdrawal symptoms. Johnson drove home to Oklahoma in a bad headspace.

But when he returned to Philadelphia a few weeks later, Johnson opened up about his struggle with mental health and didn’t stop there. In the years since then, Johnson has spoken publicly to clinics and schools with the hope that his story will get through to someone else.

It was never Johnson’s goal to become a public mental health advocate but when the opportunity presented itself, he didn’t hide from it.

“Since it became public here, I’ve just felt like instead of shying away from it, could help a lot of people who are in similar situations or headspace,” Johnson said this week. “I was kind of reluctant at first but since it was public, I felt since it was public, instead of just shying away from it, address it and use it to help people.”

Johnson, 33, has really valued all the feedback he’s gotten from fellow NFL players. When Johnson went public with his story, he explained that he once felt ashamed to be struggling with these issues, even though they’re quite common in every level of society. Players like Johnson and his former Eagles teammate Brandon Brooks have done a lot to remove the stigma from mental health issues and conversation.

Johnson said he hears from many players who have thanked him for his leadership.

“I think that’s probably the biggest thing that resonates with me,” Johnson said, “that I get to help these guys who are doing the same thing that I do.”

But it goes well beyond the NFL.

Kelce said he’s been approached by regular folks at the beach, at bars, even when he was the Eagles’ Man of the Year nominee a couple years ago, who have told him how much they appreciate Johnson’s journey.

“He’s not the only Philadelphia Eagle who has been open and honest about it,” Kelce said. “But I think that he’s done it the right way. He’s been open and honest about it and I think that has been a great benefit to a lot of people.”

In addition to his work as a mental health advocate, Johnson has honored Gold Star families and Silver Star recipients. He was a part of the Eagles’ trio that released Christmas albums in back-to-back years to support the Eagles Autism Foundation. He has given back to Kilgore College, the JUCO program that helped him get to Oklahoma and the the NFL. And he helped create OL Masterminds, which annually brings together some of the best offensive linemen in the country.

On top of it all, Johnson is an All-Pro offensive lineman and one of the best tackles in the NFL.

But it’s really Johnson’s work as a mental health advocate that stands out most. It’s going to be a lasting part of his legacy whether or not he ends up winning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

Just to be nominated for the league’s most respected honor is telling.

“It caught me by surprise,” Johnson said. “I was really caught off-guard. I’m humbled, I’m honored. I think my job is to represent all the people that helped me and in the position I’m in now is to help the community and serve those that have served me. That’s really what it comes down to.”

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