What do you imagine when you think of a Division 1 starting quarterback? You probably think of a young man who is tall, handsome, popular and has an incredibly bright and exciting future. Because quarterbacks are the face of their football team, they are well known around campus and in the media. Many of them have hopes of playing in the NFL, especially players at a school as big and prestigious as Washington State University.
Until January 16th 2018, that description would apply perfectly to Tyler Hilinski. However, on the 16th, Hilinski would take his own life via a self-inflicted gunshot. After not showing up to team practice, police conducted a wellness check where they found Hilinski dead, with a suicide note and rifle next to his body.
Hilinski had just completed his sophomore season at Washington State where he was primarily the backup quarterback. However, despite not starting for most of the season he threw for 1176 yards and 7 touchdowns. Hilinski started in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan State, and was projected to be the Cougars starting quarterback on opening day in 2018.
The death of Tyler Hilinski, who was only 21 years old, while extremely sad, is not a particularly new phenomenon; other athletes suffering from depression have taken their own lives. Athletes, especially student athletes, face pressures that the general public does not see on a daily basis. There are major expectations from fans to perform at a high level on the field right away; this makes athletes feel as if they need to live up to the scholarship they receive in college, or paycheck they receive in professional sports.
When most people go to work everyday, they are not being broadcasted on national television, and when they have a bad day, they are not blasted on Twitter, and sometimes even threatened by angry fans. While it is a legitimate argument that these athletes knew what they were signing up for when they agreed to attend that school, that does not change the fact that the pressure is real and can take athletes into a dark place when they are not immediately successful.
A study conducted by Medical Daily in 2013 found that roughly 17% of athletes surveyed were experiencing symptoms that correlated with depression. To put that number into perspective, when you watch a football game, there are 22 players on the field, meaning that there is a chance that 3 or 4 of them could be suffering from some kind of depression.
Being an athlete in college is an extraordinary privilege and comes with a great deal of responsibility, with that should also come the proper assistance and support from the institution. Just because someone puts on a hard exterior and plays a contact sport does not mean that they are immune from the mental demons that plague too many people within today’s society. We need to look at our athletes more as people that we care about and less as objects that just further the goal of winning.