Imagine playing football in front of your home crowd of 100,000 adoring and wildly enthusiastic fans. Not having to queue at the cinema or wait for a table at a restaurant. The adulation every time you step outside the door.
Now imagine that you have a losing record in what everyone said was “your” year. That your coach, your mentor, the person who started you on the first steps of your dream is on the verge of the sack. That your dream of playing in the NFL is disappearing before your eyes.
Each time you walk on campus, the adulation has gone. Those adoring fans now heckling you as you walk to class. Worse still Twitter and any other social media platform you care to think of is filled with hate. ESPN, SEC Network, CBS Sports replaying that last minute pick six everywhere, all the time. Can you picture that?
Now imagine you are 19 and in your first year away from home, desperately trying to fit in, with friends that you have known for months rather than years. And you desperately need time to study for exams, even finals, to keep your scholarship and retain your place on the team. All whilst working part time to make money to live in between football practice.
There has been a long parade of players in the NFL who have buckled under the pressure of money, unrealistic expectations and a lifestyle they were never raised for or trained to be a part of. But to paraphrase Allan Iverson, this is College. College. We’re talking about College.
We witnessed a terrible tragedy last week with the suicide of Washington State Quarterback Tyler Hilinski. The Washington State Cougars, led by the mercurial Mike Leach are in shock and in mourning. I don’t know the Hilinsky family but I feel terribly for any family which loses a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister in this way. My heart goes out to the Hilinksi and the Cougar family.
Surveys in both the US and UK have shown startling high rates of mental health issues on Campus. A 2017 survey in the UK by IPPR showed that Universities were becoming overwhelmed by the increase in mentally ill students seeking help. Financial and Academic pressures are pushing students to the brink.
Without singling out sports for any particular attention, add the pressures of what has become a quasi- professional lifestyle (without the money I hasten to add) and it is a touch paper waiting to be lit.
The scale and magnitude of the College game in the US leaves those unfamiliar with its history and popularity startled. Many Universities programmes are funding entirely by its Athletics Departments. For Athletics read Football and Basketball. Unsurprisingly there is huge financial incentive to win. But with that comes pressure. In buckets. Pressure for athletes who are not paid but are studying for a degree to move on to the next stage of their lives. And for many that’s not the NFL.
While Universities are not ignoring these issues and are trying to tackle them, is it too much to expect that a higher percentage of the millions of dollars being made by College Football are diverted to Student Mental Health Programmes?
But it doesn’t just have to be about money. It’s about support and help. In fact a student led movement called Hope Happens Here has brought the topic of mental health out into the open. The movement was started by two young hockey players in Vermont and you can read more about the movement at http://www.hopehappenshere.co
While last weeks terrible news will be labelled a tragedy, this is happening across UK and US campuses with alarming regularity. Mental Health Awareness Week occurs in May, however if you or someone you know wants to find out more or needs help please seek the help of a health professional or visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk
I’m not going to pretend what occurred in Pullman, Washington last week won’t happen again but let’s all hope and pray that it is a long time until we hear of another tragedy.
This guest piece was written by George Somerville who supports the Green Bay Packers and college team Alabama. You can follow George on @geosomerville.