When Katie Hood arrived at her New York office one day in the fall of 2017, she was surprised to be greeted by a voicemail from an NFL player.
It was Stephen Weatherly.
Hood is the CEO of the One Love Foundation, an organization that provides tools to help educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, and the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive end was part of an unhealthy relationship that sent him into depression as a ninth-grader.
“We got a call into our 1-800 number and it was basically him saying on the message, ‘I play in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, I have a chance to participate in the ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ campaign. I wondered if you would mind if I wore One Love cleats,’ ’’ Hood said. “It was such a funny call to get. You don’t expect NFL players to call the 1-800 number.”
One Love is named for Yeardley Love, a young woman killed by an ex-boyfriend as a student at the University of Virginia in May 2010. Weatherly has been one of approximately 20,000 trained facilitators for One Love since he was at Vanderbilt in 2015.
Hood, however, was unfamiliar with Weatherly when he left his voice message on the foundation’s 1-800 number. He just wanted to cover all his bases.
“I’m young in the league,” Weatherly said. “I didn’t know if you had to have like official approval from the organization. I didn’t want to get sued or something, or step on anyone’s toes, so I just went online and found a number and I called and it went to voicemail.”
Since then, Weatherly has become well known within the One Love Foundation, regularly involved in events. For the past two years, he has represented the organization during the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, which encourages NFL players to wear cleats identifying charitable organizations one weekend a season.
Vikings safety Anthony Harris, who enrolled at Virginia a year after Love’s death, also has worn One Love Foundation cleats each of the past two seasons.
Weatherly said his desire to work with the foundation grew out of an episode when he was in the ninth grade at Shiloh High School in Snellville, Ga., outside Atlanta.
“I had an unhealthy relationship, my very first one,’’ he said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out she was verbally and emotionally abusive. I didn’t know the signs, so having to go through that led me through some depression. I was super young, so I didn’t know how to deal with stuff like that.”
Weatherly provided some details.
“It’s your first relationship, so you don’t really know what’s a healthy relationship and what’s not healthy,’’ he said. “And she says things like, ‘Oh, what are you going to do, leave me? I’m the only person who likes you.’
“I thought I wasn’t worthy. I thought I wasn’t good enough for anybody else, and so that leads to depression. But I was able to come out on the other side thanks to the love and support of my family. So, I want to go out and educate others.’’
Weatherly took part in a One Love event last month at Brittany’s Place, a shelter in St. Paul for sexually exploited girls.
“We had ice cream sundaes, so it was very informal, to get everybody comfortable,” Weatherly said. “I just said, ‘Hey, I’m Stephen Weatherly. I play for the Vikings and today I wanted to come, bring some ice cream, and just basically talk about healthy friendships and healthy relationships.’ ”
Since being selected by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft, Weatherly has sought to make an impact in the community. A desire to become even more involved played a role in switching representation to Blake Baratz of Minneapolis-based The Institute for Athletes.
“My old agency was based in New York, and so I just want to be able to get out and do off-the-field stuff (in the Twin Cities),” Weatherly said. “Talking to youths, talking to some shelters. Things they actually set up for me to do.”
On Tuesday, Weatherly will take part in the second University of Minnesota Mental Health Awareness Day at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. As many as 50 patients from the U’s Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic will visit the Vikings practice facility, take a tour and listen to Weatherly.
Joining him will be Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah. He was Weatherly’s roommate during spring drills and said he wanted to “lend a helping hand” after hearing the defensive end talk about the event.
Weatherly has a keen interest in wanting to “de-stigmatize mental health disorders.” He took part in last July’s first Mental Health Awareness Day and talked about his experience.
Weatherly said being an NFL player helps get his message across. After being mostly on the practice squad in 2016 and playing sparingly in 2017, Weatherly started six games last season and made an impact on a unit that was fourth in the NFL in total defense.
“I’m just one more voice to spread awareness, and I think it resonates a little more because I also play football and I’m on TV and stuff like that,” he said.
Weatherly is entering the final year of his contract but hopes to remain in the Twin Cities for a long time. Baratz said last month he has had discussions with the Vikings about a contract extension, and that both sides want to get a deal done.
“Stephen is very eclectic and cerebral and wants to really use his platform for better,” Baratz said. “So, we’re just helping him put a strategy and a plan together.
“He’s got a good heart. He’s not doing these things because there’s a camera there; he’s was doing them much prior to anyone knowing who Stephen Weatherly is.”
Baratz said Weatherly recently showed up at an e-sports event for high school students who were thrilled to meet him. His visit to Brittany’s Place was so successful that he has been invited back to lead a workshop on July 19.
“Any time that people are willing to speak up and use their platforms, whatever they may be, to help draw people into this work, we’re super grateful,” Hood said.
On Tuesday in Eagan, Weatherly and Abdullah will talk about mental health in and out of football. Josh Mervis, a fifth-year clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate at Minnesota who has helped put the events together, said attending outpatients have issues ranging from social anxiety to schizophrenia.
“They loved it last year,” Mervis said. “It’s not every day that they get to go somewhere and feel special and feel like somebody wants them to be there. For some of these folks with serious chronic mental illness, just getting them out of the house sometimes is a challenge. … It’s a major value to (have Weatherly’s involvement) with these groups outside of his celebrity. It’s important for him to want to create good in the world.”