Signed by the New York Jets in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, Doug Middleton is an NFL safety and an advocate for mental health awareness. Despite a recent personal loss and a pectoral injury that sidelined him for the entire 2017 season, Middleton continues to demonstrate leadership, resilience and dedication both on and off the field.
Middleton’s life outside the NFL took an abrupt turn in July 2017. Right as training camp was kicking off, Middleton learned about the tragic passing of his best friend since childhood, AJ Morrison. Just 24 years old, AJ had committed suicide after suffering from depression for nearly five years. Devastated but determined to honor his friend, Middleton got to work.
In late 2017, Middleton established the Dream the Impossible Initiative, an organization that seeks to destigmatize mental illness and bring greater awareness to mental health. For the organization’s first event, Middleton hosted a holiday “Let Your Light Shine Celebration” in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. At the event, a mental health advocate spoke to 100 guests, including 32 children from low-income families. The children also received toys, clothing and other gifts.
Middleton’s inaugural event earned him the Week 15 NFLPA Community MVP award in December 2017. The National Football League Player Association grants the Community MVP award every week during the NFL regular season to players making a positive impact in their communities. Upon receiving the award, Middleton stated, “Being named NFLPA Community MVP means more to me than any on-the-field accomplishment I could receive.”
Middleton supports other mental health organizations as well, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Charlotte Rescue Mission. In addition, he is an activist for mental health training in North Carolina schools, having recently earned a Master of Public Administration from his undergraduate alma mater, Appalachian State University.
Playing professional football is just one dream Middleton has made come true, despite the nightmares along the way. Since joining the NFL, Middleton has wasted no time in fulfilling his other dream. Middleton states, “Being able to be a role model in my community has always been a dream of mine.”