Jets' Solomon Thomas honors late sister with mission to fight youth suicide

In honor of his late sister, Jets DT Solomon Thomas and his family founded a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention among youths

NBC Universal, Inc.

New York Jets defensive tackle Solomon Thomas was the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

But just a year into his professional career, he experienced a personal tragedy.

In January 2018, Thomas' older sister Ella died by suicide. She was 24, and had battled anxiety and depression, Thomas said.

"[My family was] just kind of thrown into this world of grief, of mental health -- a whole world we didn't have a clue about," Thomas said in an interview with NBC. "There was a stigma around suicide that we couldn't talk about it, and people didn't talk to us about it, and we didn't know what to do. So we kind of struggled with that."

After Ella's death, the Thomas family saw first-hand how many people were struggling with mental health, and they wanted to do something to help.

So, in 2021, the Thomas family founded a nonprofit called "The Defensive Line" in honor of Ella. The Defensive Line's mission is to "end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young people of color, by transforming the way we connect and communicate about mental health," according to Thomas.

The foundation has gone into places like schools, Fortune 500 companies and sports programs to teach things such as how to talk about mental health, how to look for warning signs and how to lead someone in the direction of getting help.

"Ultimately, we're just trying to create a safe mental health environment where everyone can just kind of be free and be themselves," Thomas said. "We're trying to change the stigma and we're trying to save as many lives as we can."

Thomas, who's talked about his own mental health journey, discussed the importance of seeking out help.

"The hardest thing for me to do in my life was to admit that I needed help and that I needed to go to therapy. It saved my life and changed my life forever," Thomas said. "I think it's just extremely important for people to know, 'Hey, that takes a lot of strength and that's the best thing you can do for yourself. So know that there's people here for you and there's help for you and there's light at the end of that tunnel. So keep going and stay with us, please.'"

Thomas has "big dreams" for the future of The Defensive Line. The seventh-year pro hopes to eventually have the foundation's programs added to curriculums in schools and colleges.

"I think that would be so huge, just to have a system in place where people are being taught about how to have a plan about mental health," Thomas said. "I'm just excited for the future of what we're doing, and I just want to keep saving lives and making the world a better place."

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741 anytime.

Contact Us