HEART TO HEART

One week isn’t enough to solve mental health

Student Athlete Mental Health Week makes strides toward good.



By DANA HAMMERSTROM

This article contains mention of suicide.

Some moments in life hit you like a ton of bricks. You can’t help the lump in your throat from forming or the welling of tears in your eyes. 

Reading the “Tyler’s Story” page on the Hilinski’s Hope website was one of those moments. 

I’ll sum the story up for those unfamiliar with Tyler Hilinski. Hilinski was born in 1996 and grew up in Southern California with his parents and two brothers. His parents, Mark and Kym Hilinski, included stories of Tyler Hilinski’s obsession with sports from a young age on their website. 

“From the moment he could hold a ball he always seemed to have one in his hand,” Mark and Kym Hilinski wrote. “He slept with his baseball glove because he loved the way it smelled, and shot basket after basket in the hoop on the family driveway.” 

Growing up, it was clear Tyler Hilinski would be a force on the field, and after high school, he moved to Pullman, Washington to play quarterback for Washington State University. His time playing for WSU was a success, to say the least. 

During his time as a Cougar, he clocked 1,491 passing yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, along with a career-defining comeback against Boise State as a sophomore. Tyler entered the game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and a 21-point deficit to close. This shouldn’t have been possible, but after three overtimes Tyler threw a touchdown to win the game. 

“WSU fans rushed the field and the WSU players hoisted Tyler on their shoulders,” wrote the Hilinski family. “From that moment on, Ty became known as the ‘Comeback Kid.’” 

That was September 2017. Despite being known as a happy person by friends, family and teammates, Hilinski took his own life in January 2018 — just four months after the game of a lifetime. 

This was nothing short of a tragedy — for the Hilinski family, college football and the world of sports as a whole. And yet, we still have not learned how to take care of our collegiate athletes’ mental health. 

After their publication, these stories only resurface a few times each year — whether as convenient press or pure coincidence is unknown to me. But after events like “Student Athlete Mental Health Week” end, articles like this get shoved into the archives. 

Don’t get me wrong, Student Athlete Mental Health Week is a huge step in the right direction. The issue is that there are 51 other weeks each year where the mental health of college athletes goes unchecked — this is where problems arise. 

Stories of athletes suffering are not given the same respect and attention as those same athletes’ triumphs. We will talk about a baseball player’s home run to win the World Series for decades. Why won’t we also talk about the story of an athlete ending their life and how we can stop that from happening ever again? 

College athletics led by directors, coaches and staff members are defined by the players that these forces work so hard to recruit, train and enable to win. But where these athletes are pushed to the brink physically, they also are mentally. 

The point of telling you Hilinski’s story is not for tears or page turns. It is for a reminder to readers that this happens to athletes everywhere, in every conference, across every sport. And we aren’t doing enough to stop it. 

“Heart to Heart” did not begin — and does not exist — as a way to solve this problem. No cluster of words buried within the back pages of this paper will be able to do so. The change can evolve through these pages, though, with more exposure to what athletes really go through — at USC and beyond. 

Over 150 colleges across the country, including USC, have banded together in support of Hilinski’s Hope, the foundation Tyler Hilinski’s parents started in his honor. Student Athlete Mental Health Week will take place at these universities from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. 

However, this week cannot be the end of the conversation; with less heart-to-hearts comes more tragic headlines. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Contact the 24/7 phone line (213) 740-9355 for professional assistance from USC Counseling & Mental Health Services. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Dana Hammerstrom is a junior writing about the mental health of collegiate athletes and the emotional pressures they face in her column, “Heart to Heart,” which runs every other Tuesday. 

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