More than a year ago, Buffs4Life, a non-profit dedicated to helping former University of Colorado student athletes and coaches, re-branded its focus on mental health.
The organization has now taken a big step to further that mission.
On Wednesday, Buffs4Life launched a redesigned website and introduced a crisis hotline, 833-303-BUFFS, which will provide former Buffs in need a chance to talk with a licensed counselor any time of day.
“It doubles our abilities,” said Buffs4Life president and former CU football player Sean Tufts. “In a lot of cases, people are shy about these topics and having a third party that you can open up to is a whole different avenue for us. Giving our players another way to reach out, another way to get help, something that’s branded just for us, is going to be a life saver.”
Buffs4Life has partnered with the Rocky Mountain Crisis Center, which operates the hotline.
“There’s a team of people in place to answer the phone,” Buffs4Life publicist Kimbirly Orr said. “They are trained and licensed counselors to talk to people about whatever issues they might be having.”
Buffs4Life was founded in 2005 by former CU player and head football coach Jon Embree, as well as others, after learning about former teammate Anthony Weatherspoon being diagnosed with leukemia. Buffs4Life was able to raise funds and help the Weatherspoon family with medical costs. Over the years, several CU student-athlete alums have been helped with various needs.
In 2017, the organization recognized a significant need for mental health support. Former CU football great Rashaan Salaam died by suicide on Dec. 5, 2016, and another former standout football player, Drew Wahlroos, took his life on Sept. 2, 2017.
“Rashaan Salaam, when he passed away, I think scared a lot of people,” Tufts said.
During the past 18 months, the Buffs4Life board of directors, which includes Tufts and former CU coaches Gary Barnett and Brian Cabral, has dedicated time to mental health. Buffs4Life now has several “captains” on board as resources.
The group includes alums from various sports and they have been through a considerable amount of training to learn about mental health and how to help their peers.
“The board and directors and captains, they’re the front line and from there we have the Rocky Mountain Crisis Center standing behind us,” Orr said.
Athletes have a unique need because of the identity they gain through sports. Many young athletes are identified by their sport at a young age, but for many, their time on the field or court comes to a close after they graduate from CU. For some, there is difficulty is finding a new identity after sport.
“The reason our peer group is unique is because of the idea of identity,” Tufts said. “There’s very few instances in the maturity of a human where you get so much attention as such an early age. When that gets pulled away, it’s not surprising that you have to re-start your life and re-identify yourself and kick-start who you are again outside of football, basketball, cross country, track, or whatever the sport is. For us, it’s really important to hone in on that and be able to identify places where we can help.”
The past 18 months have been eye-opening for Tufts and the Buffs4Life staff, as they have learned about ways to help their peers.
“I think what it’s done is change every one of our conversations,” Tufts said. “I think we’re getting much more rich conversations. We’re asking harder questions. Instead of throwing money at a problem, I think we’re building programs and support that can really help people outside of just fiscal problems.
“When I first started getting into this, I only knew to call someone’s mother or call the cops.”
Now, Buffs4Life is encouraging alums to come to their peers, or call the crisis hotline.
“This hotline is a whole middle ground of that, where you can get coaching, you can ask simple questions and you can get help at the right size for your problem,” Tufts said. “It can be trips to hospitals or references to web pages and resources and everything in between. That’s what I really liked about the service.”
Buffs4Life has also worked closely with the CU athletic department, which has put an emphasis on mental health, as well. CU has increased its efforts to help current student-athletes in need.
“I think it’s a really good partnership right now,” Tufts said.
Tufts and Buffs4Life are also hoping they can help to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues.
“It’s a good statement for the global mental health community,” Tufts said. “There are 50,000 people going to Folsom Field every week in the fall and see these massive people, modern-day gladiators duking it out. To know that, ‘Hey they need help, too,’ and encourage help-seeking behavior, if we can be a role model for that, it’s awesome.”
For more information about Buffs4Life, visit www.buffs4life.org.