How Many Students Can We Save?

In the wake of the recent NCAA scandal over the ability of athletes to monetize their names and likenesses, college sports and fans have long ignored a major problem. The mental health of college athletes has routinely been ignored and forgotten.

Recently, players like Kevin Love and Demar Derozan have spoken out about their troubles managing mental health, but the amateur rank has no one representing them.

A few weeks ago, I was able to have a one-on-one interview with Georgia State’s goalkeeper and Defensive Player of the Week Kendra Clarke. I initially wanted to speak with her and discuss the soccer team and their next matchup, but her awareness and passion for mental health instantly took over our discussion.

College can be an extremely stressful time for any young adult, and the stress only mounts when more responsibilities are added. A student athlete must carry the ferocity from the field and the intelligence from the classroom, all while remaining disciplined and enjoying early adulthood.

“People don’t understand; like, every game you leave, and you got a headache. At least for me. I have a headache because it’s such a mental game for me,” Clarke said. “I don’t have a lot of chances so it’s really easy to get in my own head if I make a mistake. I can spiral out of control if I really let it get to myself.”

Although institutions are more aware of mental health among college students, fans and common perceptions ignore the enormous stress college students face. According to Inside Higher Ed, nearly one in four college athletes may suffer from depression, so why aren’t we considering them in discussions of mental health?

I believe peers, staff and fans see athletes as superstars instead of students. Collegiate athletes are typically the most popular and high-spirited males or females on campus, so it is hard to imagine any of their struggles. Clarke’s physical abilities and achievements caused for superhero comparison, but the more we talk, the more I related to her. I couldn’t imagine the cost of being an elite goalkeeper because I was blinded by her abilities.

College sports can raise a person’s status, provide a student with amazing experiences and teach lessons on and off the field of play. Clarke explained that her relentless and energetic play came directly from playing soccer.

“Go to the point where you’re comfortable and push five more yards,” she said, referring to her style of play. “It definitely helps in the classroom I would say. Just getting out there and talking to professors and making random comments. Talking to people in the class. It’s an aura so confident that has definitely transitioned throughout my life.”

Along with becoming a soccer coach after college, inspiring kids from back home and pushing the game of soccer forward, Clarke hopes to spread the word on mental health.

“Mental health has always been a really big fight for me, and I definitely advocate for that,” Clarke said. “If anybody struggles with that, they can come to me always. I am always an open book when it comes to that stuff. I know what it is like. I’ll go through different mental health projects.”

I believe she is taking her experiences, going forward and showing the world the life of an athlete. We just have to listen and raise awareness.