Packing up and moving is a daunting task for just about anybody. Couple that move with less than a few days’ notice in the midst of a pandemic with a multitude of unknowns, and it’s sure to warrant unsolicited stressors.
As the San Francisco 49ers began the transition from Santa Clara to their indefinite residence in Glendale, Ariz., the team has put a heavy emphasis on the well-being of everyone involved.
Just ahead of departing for their Week 12 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers were alerted that the team would be forced to find a new place to practice and play due to COVID-19 restrictions placed by Santa Clara County.
The team announced on Monday, an agreement with the NFL and the Arizona Cardinals that would allow the 49ers to host their Week 13 and 14 home games at State Farm Stadium. In a quick turnaround, the team made the relocation on Wednesday and immediately began preparation for the Buffalo Bills by Thursday.
In the midst of the various moving parts of San Francisco’s transition, head coach Kyle Shanahan made a point of putting mental health first amid the 49ers prolonged stay.
“I just try to stress to people that everyone is going to be at different levels and some people are going to deal with this different than others,” Shanahan told the media on Thursday. “You read about the NBA players in the bubble and all the mental issues they went through and stuff. Those guys were at least allowed to hang with each other. We’re not. So, we’re basically just in rooms here.
“It’s not like we’re in a bubble hanging out. Those things will build up on guys and each guy will handle it differently. So, I just try to tell everyone, no matter what, when someone has a problem, whatever it is, there’s no problem too big or too small. A lot of guys keep that stuff internally.”
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has been vocal in his fight to de-stigmatize sports and mental health following his own personal battle with depression. The team has implemented a number of internal resources to help support players battling various concerns.
Shanahan met with around 20 players on Wednesday night in Arizona. Manned with leading a team of over 70 players and an additional 120-plus support staff, Shanahan has virtually taken on the role of a team therapist, encouraging leaders take notice of anyone who may be hitting a mental wall throughout the transition.
“I just told them to look out for that stuff and make sure that whether they come to me or a position coach. We have lots of people here who aren’t coaches or players who can help people,” he added.
Since the team isn’t residing in a bubble-like atmosphere similar to what was implemented by the NBA, the team is forced to continue social distancing protocols and hold team meetings virtually. Players and staff are not only isolated from one another, but also their family and friends.
The 49ers relocation comes at an inopportune time considering the month of December centers around the holiday season and the 49ers currently have an undefined schedule to return home. Several players have pregnant significant others with looming due dates and are navigating the county’s 14-day quarantine mandate.
Shanahan and the 49ers organization are striving to make the unusual transition as “normal” as possible. The 49ers timeline to return to Santa Clara remains undetermined as the team is taking the approach of the upcoming stretch a week at a time. Although the immediate focus of the 49ers is on Monday night and the Bills, Shanahan is ensuring that his locker room is just as prepared mentally and emotionally as they will be physically.
“It’s just understanding that it’s human nature,” Shanahan continued. “Some stuff’s going to come up over the next three weeks and no one should ignore it. Just always bring it to someone’s attention because the worst thing you could be in these situations is feel alone on an island and we’ve got a big group going through it, so we can rally together and make sure we help each other through it.”