*Trigger warning: Graphic detail regarding Drew Robinson's suicide attempt upcoming.
On April 16, San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson attempted suicide in his living room. He pulled the trigger of his handgun a few paces away from the carpet so as not to leave a second mess for his family. Miraculously, he survived after sustaining a point-blank gunshot wound to his temple, in which the bullet entered his skull and exited the other side. Drew Robinson hated his life, but he was granted—inexplicably—a second chance.
In honor of Drew Robinson and First Amendment Week (FAW), the women’s basketball team exercised their right to speak on mental health awareness and the struggles of being a student-athlete.
Sophomore guard Ciera Ellington was the first to tie the pandemic to mental health deterioration but spoke positively about her experience with the team’s resources. “I know that COVID-19 has taken a toll on a lot of athletes at this time, [but] I think that the support system that we have with our coaches is probably the best thing,” she said. “As a student-athlete, mental health in past years wasn’t talked about as much. It was kind of like: you come here, you work hard, you do your job, and that’s it. We have to balance school, practice, games, social life, family and working out all on our own.”
Junior Guard Ariel Johnson echoed Ellington’s message about team support, “As far as our team, I think we do a really good job of being there for each other and supporting one another,” she said. “It’s something we take really seriously.”
Athletes at LMU fall within that 18 to 24-year-old age range and often experience mental health stigmas that coincide with their competitive nature. Junior Guard Haley Herdman bravely shared her opinion on the importance of therapy in a program’s structure, stating: “Mental health has always been a big thing in my life. I’ve been in therapy for anxiety since sophomore year of high school, so I’ve always been aware of it. Being a student-athlete, there is so much stress and anxiety that goes on, and on top of that, [there’s] performance anxiety. We have a team psychologist, Dr. William Parham; he helps us a lot. People need to realize that [therapy] isn’t just for severe mental disorders. It can be for anything ranging from mild anxiety to very severe depression. I think it’s important for student-athletes to be in therapy to deal with performance anxiety and help them with tips on how to manage it.”
Sophomore center Khari Clark explained that having a team therapist available can combat those silencing stigmas. “There’s a lot of stigmas in sports,” she said. We’re taught that 'it’s okay, just grab a little harder,' but I think it is a very important topic. Dr. Parham comes in every once-in-a-while and asks about our morale. Having [him] there is very important to our mental health as a team. Adding that extra layer of being an athlete and being able to perform at this high level, it’s very important that our team and the coaching staff takes [how hard it is] into account.”
An emphasis on mental health becomes even more important when a team is struggling to tally victories. Athletes measure so much of their self-worth based on their performance, and who could blame them? They have their families, fans, scholarships and future careers to reference in the face of every bump in the road. “Basketball is a very hard sport," acknowledged Ellington. “It can be very draining. I know that in situations where the season isn’t going well, [mental health issues] can be even more harsh on people.”
In hopes of creating change, the coaches have facilitated an effective support system, and their effort is reflected in the players’ positive reviews of the program. Ariel Johnson went on to add, “I don’t think I’ve ever been told to hide my feelings. I think I’ve actually been encouraged to express my thoughts a lot more.”
Nevertheless, don’t allow the conversation to trail off when FAW concludes, because the struggle never does. Reach out to loved ones, be kind, and look to LMU women’s basketball for tips on support and availability.