Heisman Humanitarian Award

Solomon Thomas

The Heisman Trophy Trust selected New York Jets Defensive Lineman Solomon Thomas as the recipient of the 2023 Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The Defensive Line (TDL) has a mission to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young people of color, by transforming the way we communicate and connect about mental health.

“Solomon’s contributions to humanitarian efforts and charitable work, such as mental health advocacy, make him a most deserving candidate for the Heisman Humanitarian Award. Furthermore, his dedication to promoting mental health awareness and helping others facing similar challenges showcases his commitment to making a positive impact on society,” said Mike Comerford, President of the Heisman Trophy Trust.

Thomas had a successful football career at Stanford University.  He was a standout defensive lineman, earning All-Pac 12 honors and recording 101 tackles, 24.5  tackles for loss, and 12 sacks during his three-year collegiate career.  His performance helped excel Stanford’s football team to great success.  Thomas was named the Morris Trophy Winner, as the best defensive lineman in the Pac 12 conference in 2016.  He went on to be the third overall pick in the NFL Draft.   Thomas has played 7 seasons in the National Football League for the San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas Raiders, and New York Jets. Thomas has established himself as a valuable asset to the teams he has played for, helping to anchor their defensive lines and disrupt opposing offenses. A hard worker and dedicated professional, Thomas is extremely well-regarded by both teammates and coaches for his work ethic and commitment to the game. In 2022, The New York Jets nominated Thomas for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. 

“I am deeply honored to receive the 2023 Heisman Humanitarian Award from the Heisman Trophy Trust.” stated Thomas.  “This recognition goes beyond the game, emphasizing the power of vulnerability, empathy, and kindness. How when we use these, we can impact others far from our own understanding. Shining importance on mental health is my life mission and we are just getting started.” 

Thomas and his parents, Chris and Martha, founded The Defensive Line (TDL) in 2021 which serves as a supportive community for everyone, especially those in crisis and those impacted by Mental Health. The organization focuses on promoting communication and connection around suicide prevention through a variety of means, including educating adults about youth suicide, increasing language and conversation skills, creating safe spaces for honest and vulnerable conversations, and improving systemic approaches within schools.

Today, TDL empowers adults to connect with young people over their shared humanity and hope for a better future, offering training and support to schools and other organizations in their efforts to prevent suicide and support mental health. Through its trainings, TDL teaches adults about the urgency of the national suicide crisis, warning signs and risk factors, and how to apply that knowledge in their everyday interactions with young people. The organization also bridges the gap between existing mental health resources and individuals in crisis, helping adults become better equipped to have difficult conversations and connect to resources.

The impact of TDL’s work is evident in the data from its suicide prevention workshops, which show significant increases in teachers’ comfort levels, participants’ willingness to have mental health conversations and preparedness for suicide intervention. By focusing on adults in schools and other settings, TDL aims to shift the conversation around mental health and suicide prevention, helping to build connections between young people and the adults who serve them. Ultimately, TDL seeks to end the epidemic of youth suicide and create a safer, more supportive environment for young people of color.

In addition to The Defensive Line, Thomas has been an impactful keynote speaker and panel member at events for the American Foundation Suicide Prevention Gala, Mental Health America, San Francisco Suicide Prevention, NFLPA Super Bowl Players Summit, Kick the Stigma, Bring Change 2 Mind, and USC Annenberg Summit.