Last summer, two Indiana State University football players were killed in a car accident.
Just over a week ago, three football players from the University of
were killed when they were shot by a former teammate.
In both cases, university leaders had to make a plan to support the teammates and friends of the dead students.
Sherard Clinksdale is the director of athletics or sports for the state of Indiana. He had to find ways to help the students process their grief. He also had the difficult task of narrating football coach and the parents of the students that their children had died.
“There is no Playbook for something like this,” Clinksdale said.
At the University of Virginia, Carla Williams has the best athletic job. When news broke on November 14 that the students had been killed, the university canceled classes and other school activities for two days. The school did not play the next football match either.
Mental health professionals and dogs trained to offer comfort were made available to students. Williams said it was important to make counselors available to all students, not just those who were on the sports team.
Sports leaders at universities say they have paid more attention to the mental health of their students in recent years. A 2019 study found that college presidents also paid more attention to students’ mental health.
But in 2021, a questionnaire of college athletes found that only 53 percent of those surveyed thought their coaches took mental health seriously.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, oversees college sports in the US. It does not have the power to make colleges change their mental health policies. But it does provide tools that schools can use to help students.
Sunday Henry is a physician who works with students at Washington State University. She helped the soccer team there deal with player deaths in 2018 and 2019. Henry said the first part of the plan is to get all team members together to tell them what happened and how to get help.
She said she thinks college football coaches are getting better at urging their athletes to get mental health care. In the past, some players and coaches believed that getting help was a sign of weakness.
Henry also said athletic sneakers are usually the best at spotting athletes who are having problems. The trainers spend a lot of time with the students recovering from injuries.
Tony Elliott is the University of Virginia football coach. He said he wanted to support his players. He added: “Nothing can prepare you for this situation.”
Bryan Blair is athletic director at the University of Toledo in Ohio. He was working in sports at Washington State University when the players died there. Blair said many of the adults in the sports department took a class called Mental Health First Aid.
He said the adults who work in college sports and interact frequently with students “should be a resource to the student-athletes.”
Curt Mallory is the football coach at Indiana State. He said he makes time every Monday to meet his student athletes, even if they seem to be doing well.
At San Jose State University in California, coaches had to respond to the death of a player who was hit by a bus in October. The next football match has been postponed. The football coaches worked to help the student’s family and plan a memorial.
The following week, the school played its game and won. The late player, Camdan McWright, was honored in a special ceremony. His family was there to see the monument.
Jeff Konya is the school’s athletic director. He watched over the sports teams that week. He has worked in college sports for 36 years. In that time, he said, school sports leaders have gotten better at it to set priorities mental health.
“We’re in a better position now,” he said. However, he notes that sometimes things can go wrong. “It’s not infallibleKonya said.
I’m Faith Pirlo. And I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell edited this story for VOA Learning English based on a report from the Associated Press.
Words in this story
coach-n. a person who trains or teaches an athlete
Playbook -n. a book that contains sports games, but in this case a guide of best practices and ideas
counselor -n. a person trained to help people who are struggling with problems or concerns
comfort -n. a state in which you feel less worried or upset during a period of emotional pain
questionnaire -n. an activity in which a number of people are asked questions to gather information about what most people think about something
trainer-n. a person who helps athletes heal or prepare for sports
prioritize –v. to make something the most important or first in a series of activities
infallible –adj. something that can hardly go wrong
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