Helping Beyond the Field

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The headlines on November 11, 2015 read Elon University Football Player dies after fall from UNC dorm.

Before I saw the news, I received a message via Groupme saying, “Yo somebody jumped from Morrison and died.”

Of course these two messages relayed two different perceptions of the same incident, but that is expected.

The verbiage used in the news normally includes safety measures to show respect to the individual’s family and to avoid jumping to conclusions about their death. The unfiltered message from a friend was based off their prior knowledge of the structure of the dorm that would make one think it is difficult to “just fall” and suggested that the person died by suicide.

Later, news articles reported vice president, Smith Jackson, of Elon University released a statement that the young man had passed away.

"He had left the Elon campus yesterday and his teammates, friends and family asked police to look for him because they were concerned for his well-being and emotional state"

Demitri Allison was only 21 years old and individuals were aware that something was wrong when he left campus, however we may never know how long things had been that way and the early warning signs that were possibly ignored.

I did not know this young man, but as a black man and former athlete, I can empathize with his struggle.

As a college athlete, people believe that you have everything and everything is always good. They see and recognize the perks of being an athlete and some even associate it with being spoiled and not having to deal with some of the same struggles as their peers who are not athletes. The name on the back of the jersey, along with the fans in the stands boosting this “fame” makes it is easy to believe that the college athlete lives a lavish lifestyle.

However brief, My days as a college athlete were some of the most stressful times of my life. At this time, my life was personified by at least three different identities; athlete, student, and simply as a person.

The identity of an athlete encompasses the pressure of performance in practice, training, and on the field/court. An athlete wants to remain healthy, secure their position on the team, and hopefully set himself or herself up to advance to the next level. Any disruption in this process creates an added stressor, especially an injury.

As we all know, the identity of a student involves classes, exams, and various other aspects of being in college. Let's be honest…college is hard and it is not for everybody but as an athlete it is a necessary part to continue to pursue your dream. You must make certain grades to remain eligible to play.

Last but not least, these individuals are people. Life can throw a number of curve balls at you including family issues, relationships problems, or financial troubles. Student athletes are not immune to these stressors and must address them as well as everything else that they have on their plate. Sometimes, it can be a hard decision to determine which identity takes precedence.

There are many moving parts of a student athlete’s life that become intertwined and lead to an overwhelming amount of stress. Unfortunately, as long as the athlete is performing well at their sport, other key aspects are ignored, including their mental health.

The main objective is ensure that you succeed at what you are brought in to do, and that is to perform in your athletic arena.

Things are put in place to ensure that a student athlete has an opportunity to perform. Including state of the art athletic facilities complete with everything imaginable; including weights, sports medicine for injuries and separate cafeterias.

Many criticize the NCAA and schools for ignoring the academic aspect for student athletes but I also recognize a disconnect with adhering to their mental and emotional well-being.

I received my diagnosis while on a sports team in college, however, similar to other things available to me, my psychiatric treatment did not come from the athletic department. A number of things contributed to this including:

- In general, I was afraid to talk about what was really going on with me. I was an athlete and I am supposed to be strong. Despite how wrong my thinking was, I believed “I cannot let an inability to manage my thoughts and emotions inhibit my ability to perform”

- I did not feel comfortable talking to anyone in the athletic department. If I do let someone know what is going on with me, can I really trust them? Will they really care or will they just tell me to suck it up and get over it? Will they tell the rest of the team? I can’t risk it.

 

I would like to send my condolences to the friends and family of Demitri Allison and I hope that when we think about promoting the mental health of individuals, we do not forget to address it with athletes as well.

Athletic programs generate large amounts of revenue for schools and they put systems in place to ensure that athletes are granted an opportunity to develop as a student athlete. Unfortunately, a holistic approach that addresses mental health as well as physical health of student athletes is not always emphasized.

Can student athletes that are taught skills about managing stressors and promoting their own mental health perform better in the classroom and on the field?

Will these skills increase their chances of succeeding after college even if they do not go pro?

Will athletes even utilize these services if they are available and address their diverse mental health needs?

Answers to these questions may vary from person to person but I believe that student athletes are facing an injustice when they are not offered.

How do you think incorporating mental health services with athletic programs will impact student athletes?

#LetsTalkAboutIt