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Universities are studying athletes’ mental health after recent crises

Late last summer, two football players at Indiana State University were killed in a car accident.

Just over a week ago, three football players at the University of

were killed when they were shot by a former teammate.

In both cases, university leaders had to make a plan to support the teammates and friends of the students who died.

Sherard Clinksdale is the director of athletics, or sports at Indiana State. He had to find ways to help the students work through their grief. He also had the difficult task of narrating the football coach and the parents of the students that their children died.

“There is none playbook for something like that,” Clinksdale said.

At the University of Virginia, Carla Williams has the top athletics job. When news broke that the students had been killed on November 14, the university canceled classes and other school activities for two days. The school also did not play its next football game.

Mourners link arms during a memorial service for three slain University of Virginia football players Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler at the John Paul Jones Arena on November 19, 2022. (Erin Edgerton/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports via REUTERS )

Mourners link arms during a memorial service for three slain University of Virginia football players Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler at the John Paul Jones Arena on November 19, 2022. (Erin Edgerton/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports via REUTERS )

Mental health workers and dogs trained to present comfort made available to students. Williams said it is important to make counselors available to all students, not just those who are part of the sports team.

In recent years, sports leaders at universities say they have paid more attention to the mental health of their students. A study conducted in 2019 showed that university presidents are also paying more attention to students’ mental health.

But in 2021, a recording of college athletes found that only 53 percent of those surveyed thought their coaches took mental health seriously.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, oversees college sports in the US. It does not have the power to make colleges change their mental health policies. But it provides tools that schools can use to help students.

Sunday Henry is a doctor who works with students at Washington State University. She helped the football team there deal with the deaths of players in 2018 and 2019. Henry said the first part of the plan is to bring all the team members together to tell them what happened and the ways they can get help.

She said she thinks college football coaches are getting better at urging their athletes to get mental health help. In the past, some players and coaches believed that helping was a sign of weakness.

Henry also said the athletics coaches is usually best to spot athletes who are having problems. The trainers spend a lot of time with the students recovering from injuries.

Tony Elliott is the football coach at the University of Virginia. He said he wanted to support his players. He added: “Nothing can prepare you for this situation.”

Bryan Blair is the athletic director at the University of Toledo in Ohio. He was working in sports at Washington State University when the players there died. Blair said many of the adults in the athletic department have taken a class called Mental Health First Aid.

He said the adults who work in college sports and often have contact with students should “be a resource for the student-athletes.”

Curt Mallory is the football coach at Indiana State. He said he makes time every Monday to meet with his student-athletes, even if they seem to be doing well.

At California’s San Jose State University, coaches had to respond to the death of a player who was hit by a bus in October. The next football match has been postponed. The football coaches worked to help the student’s family and plan a memorial.

San Jose State Spartans head coach Brent Brennan wore a shirt in honor of his player who died in a bus accident during the November 5, 2022 game.  (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

San Jose State Spartans head coach Brent Brennan wore a shirt in honor of his player who died in a bus accident during the November 5, 2022 game. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

The following week the school played its match, and won. The player who died, Camdan McWright, was honored at a special ceremony. His family was there to see the memorial.

Jeff Konya is the school’s athletic director. He watched over the sports teams that week. He has been working in college sports for 36 years. In that time, he said, college sports leaders have gotten better prioritize mental health.

“We’re in a better position now,” he said. However, he noted that things could still go wrong. “It’s not infallibleKonya said.

I am Faith Pirlo. And I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.

Quiz – Universities continue to study athletes’ mental health after recent crises

Quiz - Universities continue to study athletes' mental health after recent crises

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Words in this story

coach-a. a person who trains or instructs an athlete

playbook -a. a book containing sports plays, but in this case a guide of best practices and ideas

counselor -a. a person trained to help people who are struggling with problems or concerns

comfort -a. a state of feeling less worried or upset during a time of emotional pain

recording -a. an activity where a number of people are asked questions to gather information about what most people think about something

coach-a. a person who helps heal or prepare athletes for sports

prioritize -v. to make something the most important or first thing in a series of activities

infallible -adj. something that is hard to get wrong

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