PITTSBURGH — In January, the NCAA’s five power conferences got together at their annual convention and voted on a proposal that would require schools to provide mental health services to student athletes.
The measure passed unanimously.
It was not all that long ago that mental health carried a stigma that prevented it from even being spoken about amongst athletes, let alone being a requirement of care handed down from the NCAA.
To be certain, the work that has been done to erode that stigma is far from complete, and the sports landscape is still littered with examples of student athletes not getting the help they needed.
Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death amongst college-aged Americans, and athletes are far from immune to the effects of mental illness.
The day before the vote, Montana football player Tyler Davis died in an apparent suicide. Last September, a Wabash College football player took his own life, as did a player from Washington State last January.
The proponents of the proposal hope that universities see this as just a first step towards providing more effective mental health for all students at all levels.
“The health and well-being of student-athletes, including their mental health, is paramount to our mission in intercollegiate athletics,” the five commissioners of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC said in a joint statement. “For the past five years, the Autonomy process has allowed our institutions to adopt meaningful reforms that continue to improve the collegiate experience for current and future student-athletes.”
Closer to home, this measure won’t change much for Pitt, which already offered mental health services for student athletes, according to football coach Pat Narduzzi.
The Panthers also have access to a grassroots program called L.O.V.E., started by wide receiver and Apollo-Ridge alum Tre Tipton. The program encourages student-athletes to meet and talk about their issues and difficulties in a positive setting.
Tipton started the program after he suffered what was nearly a career-ending knee injury in the summer of 2017.
“I wanted to be better and I wanted to help people be better with injuries, or with their depression or with their anxiety,” Tipton said to PSN last fall. “You go through a hardship, you go through some hard times, it becomes very difficult, but with that said, if you have a positive mindset, it’s very possible to come back better than you were before.”
So Tipton was certainly pleased to hear about the change in policy across the five largest conferences in college sports.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “ I think it’s something that should have been happening, and should have been talked about. It’s a great change, especially for student athletes. I think a lot of times, it goes unnoticed.”
Tipton’s passion when speaking about these issues is obvious, and he hopes to one day make a difference in this field after his playing career is over.
But his career is not quite over yet. A senior, Tipton has become something of a leader in the wide receiver’s room and is hoping to be able to bring along a group of talented youngsters of that position under first-year receivers coach Chris Beatty and new offenseive coordinator Mark Whipple.
“We’ve got a lot of younger guys that are stepping up, ready to play,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys that know the drill about everything that’s going on. The combination can be very good for us.”