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Column: Harry Miller shines spotlight on mental health discussion in collegiate athletics

Harry Miller’s retirement statement and message on Good Morning America brought attention to an alarming problem in the college sports world.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Ohio State vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On March 10, Harry Miller announced that he was medically retiring from football. This was not a result of a physical injury, as he made this decision citing mental health reasons. His message has been shared all over the world, and it is an extremely important one. The current state of college athletes’ mental health needs to be addressed, and cannot be ignored anymore.

Miller might be the person you least expect to hear struggling with mental health issues. He was a starter on the Ohio State football team. He carries a 4.0 GPA as a student in the College of Engineering. After the NIL laws were passed, he raised money to help kids in Nicaragua. Based on all of this, it sounds like he is thriving, right?

That is where the problem lies. It is never okay to make assumptions about how a person is doing mentally. In reality, Miller revealed to head coach Ryan Day that he had planned to take his own life prior to the start of last season. Day immediately put him in contact with mental health professionals to give him the necessary support.

Miller is yet another example that athletes are just people. He said that he has received hateful messages, that other athletes have even gotten death threats... and for what? Dropping a pass? Missing a block? Not making a tackle? This goes way beyond football, or any sport for that matter. Football is not who these kids are, it is what they do. The majority of these athletes won’t even go on to play professionally. There is more to their lives than a sport.

A tragic story that happened just in the past month is the death of star Stanford goalkeeper, Katie Meyer. The soccer captain, who was a National Champion and destined to have a great future in the sport, took her own life on March 1. Based off her social media, one would never suspect that she was struggling.

People have become way too good about hiding how they’re truly feeling. College athletes aren’t the exception. These men and women need to know that their value doesn't come based off their athletic performance or their grades. Yes, they need to be checked on. More resources need to go toward ensuring athletes’ mental well-being.

The pressure that athletes have placed on them is insurmountable and totally uncalled for. Kids as young as middle school are being pushed to their limits in order to earn a scholarship. Once they get to college, they’re already burnt out and struggling after basing their whole lives off of their athletic success.

Enough is enough. When student-athletes say that they are struggling, they need to be heard and supported. This problem cannot be swept under the rug any longer. The old rule of how athletes are tough and should push aside their feelings is outdated and frankly, idiotic. The weight of the world is on these kids shoulders, and they need to be relieved.

Words are impactful. Coaches and other team members need to realize how much they can impact a player. Athletes need to know that they are supported no matter if they succeed or fail. Fans and those on social media must keep this in mind too. At the end of the day, sports are just a game. They aren’t life or death, so athletes shouldn’t be treated as if they are.

Resources need to be redirected to keeping multiple mental health professionals on every sports team, and providing any support possible. Perhaps teams can scale back a bit on the 10 different uniform combinations and wild locker rooms for a more important cause. I’m all for spoiling athletes — they deserve it after their hard work. But, mental health must come first.

We are all in this race called life. Let’s not make it harder on anyone than we need to. I’m so thankful that Harry Miller is still with us today, and had the bravery to go public about his mental health battles. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, but quite the opposite. The strength it takes for one to admit he/she needs support is admirable.

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.