INDIANAPOLIS – The cobalt blue Fender guitar stands tall in the rack, its silver strings tightly wound, the white pickguard glistening in the sun.
It’s Kurt Cobain’s guitar from the music video “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The former Nirvana star loved it so much that even though he made a tradition out of smashing his guitar at the end of each concert, he made sure to never smash this one. He wanted it to last.
Cobain died by suicide three years after recording the video with that guitar. Now, 28 years after his death, the Colts are teaming up with Julien’s Auctions to sell it, with a portion of the proceeds going to a cause deeply ingrained in Cobain’s identity: mental health.
“This guitar is big, and it relates so much to stigma,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said while eyeing the guitar. “When you have a mental illness, people die. These are fatal diseases — bipolar, schizophrenia, post-partem depression, alcoholic addictions. With fatal diseases, people die and they don’t choose to die.”
“Those of us who are alive, we’re not stronger or better. We didn’t get our act together more. We didn’t have more character. That’s where it’s so false.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Colts have become deeply involved in efforts to address the crisis. Through their initiative, “Kicking the Stigma,” they’ve donated more than $16 million to local and national organizations working in that area of science.
They’re stepping up those efforts this month, with a player-led service project and an application process for grants to local nonprofit organizations. They’re also helping with the auction of Cobain’s guitar.
Irsay has a deep affection for these different areas. He’s been open for years about the need to address mental health, especially after his battle with and rebound from a drug addiction that played out in the public eye. He’s also a guitar player himself and an avid collector, with prized possessions lining the trophy cases in his office in the Colts facility.
So, naturally, he had to place a bid on Cobain’s guitar. Seated next to the guitar in his office, Irsay flipped over a giant check for $2 million to start the bidding. A press release listed the estimated starting price between $600,000 and $800,000.
The auction will take place May 20-22 at juliensauctions.com.
The Colts have efforts lined up this month, but their goal is to make mental health a conversation they can have year-round. They’ve encouraged players to speak out on their own struggles, and Pro Bowlers such as Kenny Moore II and Darius Leonard have not been shy to admit they battle mental health on a regular basis.
“I ask everybody how they’re doing. Sometimes it’s OK to ask me how I’m doing,” Leonard said last week after admitting that he took two months in the offseason to work on his mental health. “Don’t ask me just to ask me. Ask me to truly have a conversation with me and to understand that I’m a human, too. I have problems. I go through things that a lot of people are going through.”
‘I needed to work on me’: Colts’ Darius Leonard took on mental health in offseason
Similar: How Colts’ Kenny Moore II went from a boy scared of hits to Man of the Year
This is the kind of roster the Colts are looking for. One without the stigma.
“(Leonard) said, ‘I had to fall back in love with what I was doing.’ Saying things like that and normalizing that is what this is all about,” Jackson said. “We know more than anybody from our personal experiences with this is what it feels like to want to hide that, and how much that can do to your mental well-being by not sharing that, and how freeing it is to talk about it.”
Irsay said, “It’s so cool and remarkable to see big, strong football players who are 6-4, 280 and the strongest men in the world at what they do, and yet they talk about these things that make them so fragile. We’re all so fragile.”