The Brotherhood Needs to Step Up

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“Rub some dirt on it.”

As a young football player, every bump, scrape, and bruise was met with this response or one similar to it.

“Shake it off and get back out there,” was the message, and, in a sport like football, this sentiment is sometimes inevitable. You’re going to get hurt. It’s part of the game. You’re expected to take it in stride and continue to help the team. You’re expected to rub some dirt on it.

But what happens when the pain you’re feeling can’t be reached by a handful of dirt or pushed aside for the sake of the team?

Football finds pride in its masculinity. Every year, teams across the country are filled with only the biggest, strongest, and fastest young men in their area.

The violence of the game is what attracts many players to it in the first place. From day one, every young football player is ingrained with one harmful and unassailable truth of the sport: “Men play this game. Not boys, not girls. Men.”

One of modern-day masculinity’s most toxic qualities is emotional repression, and while the rest of the world has begun to acknowledge this, the football community remains painfully behind. Information on mental health is already not nearly as widespread as it should be, and this is especially true in the football community.

This deficiency puts us at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to seeking help and managing mental health challenges. As a player, how am I supposed to explain to my coach what is going on with me when I haven’t been given the tools to fully understand it myself?

Recently, discussions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy have highlighted the issue of mental health in football, but the problem is that these conversations always come too late. Since it can only be confirmed through an autopsy, CTE diagnoses come after death, sometimes by suicide and almost always tragically early.

Current and former players — and not just the professionals — suffer through depression, cognitive impairment, memory loss, suicidal thoughts, and a host of other symptoms for years as a result of their football careers. As a community, we know these facts, yet no one ever seems to speak up until it’s too late.

Football’s desire to maintain its status as a man’s sport has crippled its ability to create support systems for those struggling with mental health. True or false, there is a belief within the community that non-physical pain isn’t real pain — even among those who deal with mental health issues.

Despite the fact that football teams across the country claim to be a brotherhood, players remain uncomfortable bringing their issues to teammates and coaches.

Men do cry. That’s OK. Men can feel sadness. Men can feel lost. Men can be depressed. That’s all OK.

What’s not OK is how the football community ignores the needs of their young men. As a community, we need to honestly assess where our priorities lie when it comes to the health of our players. Health extends beyond the physical, and this is a long-overdue realization in football.

Honestly, it’s simple: There is no reason that anyone in a community of millions should ever feel that they have to suffer alone.

Rest in peace Evan Hansen, and condolences to his family, friends, and the entire Wabash College football community.

If you or someone you know ever needs help, please visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255. Take care of yourself. We love you.

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