Tackling a running back on an open field is difficult, tackling the depression in unknown territory is doubly difficult for a player, especially at the college level. On July 19th Texas saw leaving a safety who proudly planted himself on the social media stage, Kobe Boyce announced he was leaving the gridiron.
When the mind is clear and in balance the trigger to play football at a high level comes from motivation, finding the explosion to tackle, run, throw, block and kick with depression requires exhausting work for the student-athlete. For Oscar Clavellina, professor of Psychology at the University of Mexico and former player of the Águilas Blancas and Pumas CU “depression is impossible to eradicate but can be controlled, exercise helps but depression remains.” The Longhorn warrior fights depression and decided to hang up the shoulder pads and helmet in Austin. This disease hits hard and it’s even more overwhelming to admit it in front of the team, be it in the Mexico College Football, NCAA or NFL.
Sports psychologists who spend more time with athletes are aware of their vulnerability. Former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith Sr contemplated being attended at home by Tish Guerin, a mental health therapist for the Panthers, the tough and legendary warrior feared that his teammates would perceive him as “embarrassing” as he entered his session therapy at the Panthers facility.
Carolina’s iconic # 89 found it difficult to go public with his battle against depression. If based on studies indicating that 12% of all men experience at least one significant episode of depression in their lives, we can assume that a portion of former professional football players are in that group.
The stories are repeated in the NCAA, a few years ago Isaiah Renfro wide receiver for the Washington Huskies was in hell, being an excellent student and one of the most sagacious players in the team, hiding his gloomy energy and smiling to hide his depression because he was terrified that his coaches and teammates thought he was weak. The University of Washington provided him with a therapist but found no method of preventing the situation when he felt he was on the brink of the abyss. Renfro’s depression was severe and his feelings were overwhelmed. Isaiah left the University of Washington.
The illness was even more sinister for Isiah when he learned of the death of a player he met: Steve Hilinski, the QB of the Washington State Cougars who committed suicide in 2017 as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the condition that creates effects like deep depression. Isiah’s strength led him to find a new home as a student-player at Portland State.
For both Isiah Renfro and Kobe Boyce, their beginning in this unknown mental field marked them for trying to overcome depression and anxiety as athletes without knowing that the causes had deep genetic roots. It is sad to know that Kobe Boyce did not receive help to prevent his retirement from football, being one of the last prospects recruited by Charlie Strong. In 2020, Boyce was expected to compete for the safety position behind juniors Jalen Green and D’Shawn Jamison.
In College Station, Texas the Aggies’ approach is more encouraging, the Texas A&M sports counseling and sports psychology department serves Aggies student-athletes through psychologists Ryan Pittsinger and Lauren Craig, who see athletes from all Texas A&M sports disciplines, 65% of these student-athletes find an immediate relationship in their performance on the courts, tracks and arenas with their mental health and detect how it can affect their athletic performance.
It is imperative that teams from all sports disciplines in a higher education institution have a psychological support structure. In Mexico, the institution that has focused more on the psychological care of its student athletes is the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, in their High School and College football programs the ‘Autenticos Tigres’ have the support of the Psychologist and professor, Dr. Maria Marentes. It is essential for her that the student athletes understand their processes.
Boyce wrote to his followers: “You are not alone”, he felt the need to express the mechanics of this painful process, to say goodbye after having felt the adrenaline of opening 3 games in 2019 and living the intensity in games against Oklahoma and LSU, the # 8 and # 6 games most viewed on TV in 2019.
Assuming that depression as a disease is considered an injury, the damages created for Boyce are painful, without detection and follow-up by a psychologist, there is no more cruel and empty feeling for a player than coming to surrender. Defeat, the feeling of failure can be overwhelming and we wish Boyce finds his way to peace of mind and spirit. “Take care of yourself and your mental health because you will not be able to operate in whatever you do if your head is not in the right place.”
And so, the player simply leaves the team with many doubts after it took him so long to become one of the Texas soldiers dying on the field of the former Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium, the fact that the Longhorns let him go instead of bundling him up and helping him be part of the team it’s heartbreaking. Silence takes away the opportunity to fight on the gridiron at least once, for his brothers.