People no longer see athletes as human after a certain point in their careers. They can no longer make sacrifices for their mental and physical health without penalty or judgment from the public, coaches or teammates.
Many NCAA athletes from low-income families are utterly dependent on their universities programs, meaning their healthcare system, doctors and trainers.
Former SEC defensive tackle, Stanley Doughty, explained that he “put everything in their hands” when discussing his career-ending spine injury during a college football play.
After the play, he was temporarily paralyzed and taken to a neurosurgeon who diagnosed him with mild congenital stenosis but told him he could continue playing.
Doughty was utterly unaware that he had been playing with his spinal injury throughout college until he was drafted to the NFL and left college to play for the Kansas City Chiefs.
After undergoing mandatory testing and medical screenings, he learned about his injury. At 23, Doughty had his NFL contract taken from him and was left with no job and no insurance after his coaches misled him.
If college athletes in the second wealthiest and most competitive conference in the NCAA cannot trust their athletic programs to take care of their physical health, how is any college athlete expected to trust their university?
Balancing academics, high-level athletic training, competition and other priorities present in a college-age student’s life is strenuous.
This month, a Stanford soccer player committed suicide, prompting her family to discuss the pressures on student-athletes. They admitted that she felt stressed to be perfect before her death.
In an interview with a Georgia State football player, he explained his experience as a Division I athlete at the university.
“This [is] my second year and going into my third this upcoming fall. I can honestly say football [puts] so much strain on me mentally. The amount of time spent trying to perfect a craft and all the physical toll that comes with it affects not just your body but also your mentality .”
We often see athletes experience burnout during their junior and senior years. Burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion that reduces athletic accomplishment and interest in a sport.
Former athlete and Georgia State head track and field coach, Kyle Stevenson, discussed his take on athletes and mental health.
“I can’t stress the importance of mental health enough,” he explained in an interview, “Your brain controls your body, so everything crumbles behind it if you’re not there mentally. I am always trying to figure out ways, subtly without my athletes even knowing, to give them a mental break.”
We can and should be inspired by athletes like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Micheal Phelps, who are working to publicize the importance of mental health in sports.
Coaches and trainers who put their athletes first to destigmatize taking care of mental health should also be our inspiration.