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The Effects of Loss on African American Male Student Athletes PART I

Jamal T. Jackson, MSW, LCSW

February 26, 2020

For mental health providers working with African American male student athletes it is important to understand the populations deeply rooted challenges in order to better support with the experience of loss.  In my research findings African American male student athlete loss can be broken down into three categories. The first category includes loss of a parent/close relative/friend through separation, divorce, incarceration, death, and homicide.  The second category of loss depends on this population’s circumstances, and includes growing up in a one parent or no parent household. The third category of loss includes varying degrees of foreseen or unforeseen transient actions which could include, parent(s) and or caretakers moving their families to another city/state and away from the only home/community that their child has known as well as any circumstance where a child has to “Start Over” socially and academically. 

When encompassing the African American male student athlete progression into sports throughout the history of the United States, we must consider not only the family structures and the burden of social perception, but also the individual student athlete, and the tensions created by the progress of social acceptance and the impact of personal experience.  The foundations of the African American experience in the United States are deeply rooted by the manifestation of slavery and oppression. It was the confidence generated through faith and resilience that brought forth the willpower to fight for civil rights for all African Americans in the United States. However, the regression of modern day perceptions has created the uprising of more discreet racism and microaggressions to influence the African American student athlete’s experience in today’s educational institutions.  In considering the connections between school integration, and the experience within athletics, we must consider the historical progression of segregation, academic expectations, and the athletic focus in relation to African American student athletes.  

The challenges that derive from deeply rooted cultural experience, perpetuates in modern day African American student athletes through their struggles to navigate personal loss, with clear understanding and interventions specific to their experience.  Therefore, in order for mental health providers to implement meaningful interventions with African American male student athletes who have experienced loss, it is important to understand the cultural challenges of African American people both past and present.   

SPOTLIGHT – MENTAL HEALTH IN SPORTS PROFESSIONALS YOU NEED TO  KNOW!!!

Jamal T. Jackson, MSW

January 13, 2020

Natalie Graves, AM, LCSW

As society changes there is an increased need for mental health for all people.  This need includes a significant growth within the field of Social Work in sports, which incorporates providing mental health support to athletes from youth to professional levels.  Being in the field of social work in sports has provided me with an opportunity to learn how mental health workers are utilizing their skills to positively support athletes.  Natalie Graves, AM, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) is one of Social Work in sport’s pioneers. Natalie has extensive training, earning a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Services Administration, a Bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University, an Addictions License from City Colleges of Chicago Kennedy-King College, and was a visiting student at the University of Maryland where she studied abroad in London, England, in Sport, Commerce, and Culture.  She has been in the field of mental health for 20 years working in social service agencies, as a school social worker, as well as in consulting with schools. Natalie created the 1in4 Project, which is an organization aimed at collaborating with local service agencies, to build practices and educate communities, in order to improve the lives of athletes. Natalie’s organization would later go on to establish the first social work and athletics conference, called “Behind the Jersey Uncovering Mental Health in Sports” in the spring of 2015.  Natalie has worked with many athletes specializing in anxiety, depression, athletic stress, PTSD, and substance abuse to name a few things. She has also been sought out by many professional organizations to support athlete mental health, including a 2018 HBO special Student Athlete, where she can be heard in the beginning of the initial credits discussing the challenge between educational attainment and athletic performance for student athletes.  Natalie’s work and accomplishments have played a monumental and significant role in fueling athletes to seek out mental health support as well as in leading mental health workers in becoming a pivotal resource in the athletic field.

Student Athlete Signs of Suicide & Risk FactorsBryce Gowdy

Jamal T. Jackson, MSW

January 1, 2020

Bryce Gowdy, a student athlete out of Deerfield Beach, Florida was set to enroll at Georgia Tech in January 2020 on a full ride football scholarship.  Unfortunately, he died from suicide two days ago. After reading a few articles and listening to his mother Shibbon Winelle’s facebook live statement, it sounds like Bryce was a good kid! According to the media outlets and his family he was concerned for his families well-being, frequently checking up on his mother, brothers, aunts and uncles and reaching out to those family members for support when he needed to. Bryce also received good grades, which definitely supported the possibility for athletic scholarships. Combine that with his athletic prowess as a four star recruit and an exceptional character reference from his head coach and one might think life is all good!

However, what you will find in the articles and his mother’s video are hardships Bryce and his immediate family faced. Unfortunately, these hardships included homelessness, financial and mental health challenges. Bryce’s mother mentioned some warning signs of suicide present in Bryce prior to his death.  The signs included, talking in circles about things his family was going through financially and with recently becoming homeless, as well as what Shibbon Winelle referred to as a paranoid state where Bryce described being trapped by doors and mirrors. 

It is unfortunate that Bryce Gowdy is no longer with us and that we have to learn from his life in order to address mental health challenges within athletics.  Although the conversation of suicide may be uncomfortable, maybe we need to be uncomfortable! That way we can begin to not only have conversations about suicide, but also create more exposure of mental health supports for student athletes.  It is my hope that more exposure will lead to more resources for student athletes. With that being said, it is extremely important to be aware of the warning signs and risk factors of suicide which are listed below. My condolences to the family and friends of Bryce Gowdy! Blessings up!!!

WARNING SIGNS RISK FACTORS
Displaying extreme mood swingsMental disorders – including but not limited to anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders
Acting anxious, agitated, & or recklessHopelessness
Talking about wanting to die or kill oneselfExperience with loss – including but not limited to loss of close family member/friend, home, job, and parents separating/divorce
Increase in substance useStigma associated with mental health 
Feelings of hopelessnessTrauma history
Withdrawing or isolating from othersAggressive/impulsive behaviors

If you’re unsure of how to obtain help, contact a professional in the mental health field. Below are resources!  

  • Feeling depressed, sad or going through any kind of emotional crisis and don’t want to talk? TEXT 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Additionally, a GOFUNDME has been set up in Bryce’s honor. If you would like to Donate the link is below!

GOFUNDME – Bryce Gowdy

https://www.gofundme.com/f/bryce-gowdy-family

* UPDATE on Mike Glass III

December 28, 2019

Anger Management & Student Athletes – MSU QB Garrett Shrader & EMU QB Mike Glass III

Jamal T. Jackson, MSW

December 27, 2019

Yesterday multiple media outlets reported on two quarterbacks who seem to have let their anger get the best of them.  One quarterback, Garrett Shrader, from Mississippi State suffered injuries to an orbital bone due to a fight with a teammate, and has most likely ended his participation in Mississippi State’s Music City Bowl game.  The other quarterback, Mike Glass III from Eastern Michigan, was ejected and missed arguably the most important last few seconds of Eastern Michigan’s fourth quarter, 2019 Quick Lane Bowl appearance, in which they lost.  I had the opportunity to watch Mike Glass III’s game and was impressed with his stats accumulating 300 yards passing with two touchdowns and 83 yards rushing with one touchdown.  

After doing a little research I learned that Garrett Shrader is a freshman and Mike Glass III is a senior at their respective schools and it made me wonder about a few things.  To start as a freshman student athlete on a Southeastern Conference football team is quite the accomplishment. However, how does Shrader’s conflict impact the team dynamics going forward?  In the case of Mike Glass III, as the leader of that team, I wonder how he will address his behavior with his teammates. In my opinion, answers will be determined in time, by the coaches, teams, Garrett Shrader and Mike Glass III, as well as in what supports the universities have in place for their coaches, athletic staff and student athletes.  Overall, and probably the most important questions are, how did Garrett Shrader and Mike Glass III’s get to such high emotional levels, and for future student athletes, what would be a go to tip in order to remain calm during conflict with others, as well as in competitive, intense environments, like the football field or basketball court?  Below I have listed two strategies that can aide future coaches, student-athletes and all other student athlete stakeholders in how to be proactive when confronted with the challenge of anger in sports.

1. It’s important for student athletes to reflect on how their brains work in order to fully understand their behavior. Video & Link on brain functioning (Good decisions vs. Bad decisions) Coming Soon!!!

2. Practice Deep Breathing Exercises – The only way this works is by truly being committed to utilizing deep breathing before game time by practicing and during game time, when feeling intense emotions. One method of deep breathing is called The Square Breathing Technique, which can help shift energy and help student athletes connect with their body, supporting athletic performance.  This technique can be simplistic and take minimal time to complete, once practiced. The Square Breathing Technique can be done while trotting back to the huddle after a play or walking to the bench during a timeout. In order to complete this exercise…

HOW TO…

  • In practicing this technique it is important to find somewhere to sit comfortably and quietly. 
    1. Prepare yourself to draw a square with your index finger utilizing the following directions.
    2. Point your index finger in front of you & draw a line up while at the same time inhaling through your nose (stop at the count of 4)
    3. While holding your breath draw a line across your body with your index finger (stop after using a slow count of 4)
    4. Draw a line down with your index finger, while gently exhaling your breath through your mouth (using a slow count of 4)
    5. While holding your breath, draw a line across your body with your index finger to the count of 4. 
    6. Repeat 1-3 times or as needed

It is normal for student athletes to experience elevated emotional states during competition. However, student athletes who react on emotions, like Garrett Shrader and Mike Glass III may benefit from utilizing square breathing or other strategies supporting emotional balance. Strategies supporting emotional balance can create a positive perception that student athletes are able to manage their emotions and handle conflict appropriately.

Student Athlete Five Stages of Grief – Long Island University Football Tragedy

Jamal T. Jackson, MSW

December 23, 2019

Long Island University starting quarterback and San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback C.J. Beathard’s brother Clayton Beathard recently died as a result of a confrontation this past weekend. One can only imagine what Clayton’s family is experiencing as a result. According to reports Clayton’s family has received overwhelming support which is good news.  I wish for nothing but positive energy and light into their hearts and souls as they grieve through the loss of Clayton.

The question arises as to what supports Clayton’s teammates and coaches at Long Island University are receiving, as they too may be grieving his death.  According to one teammate on Twitter, “Clay was an incredible teammate and an even better person that stood for nothing but positivity, and we will always keep you in our hearts.”  The head coach tweeted, “Heart breaking day, our family is hurting, all of my thoughts and prayers are with the Beathard family.” In my opinion, someone needs to follow up with Clay’s teammates and coaches in regards to the previous tweets and potential feelings of grief.

Grief is unique to the person experiencing it.  For student-athletes, having teammates can be considered an extension of your family.  And, for football players that can potentially make up up to or over one hundred brothers living their everyday lives together, through summer and spring camp, daily practices, early morning film sessions and or workouts, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and attending daily classes.  Therefore, Clayton’s teammates may be experiencing stages of grief which include Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It is important to mention the cycle of grief is different for each person and dependent on many variables.

Denial refers to a conscious or unconscious refusal in accepting the facts of loss.  Clayton’s teammates conscious denial may present as a refusal to discuss anything about Clayon’s death.  Unconscious denial may present as communicating as if Clay was still alive.  

Anger refers to a secondary emotion, often times found underlying fear and sadness. Many times sadness comes from the experience of loss.  Anger of loss can result in Clayon’s teammates feeling that life is not fair, directing anger at friends and family and or blaming others for their grief. 

Bargaining refers to avoiding grief through negotiating.  One way this may present itself in Clayon’s teammates can be through what if statements.  For example, what if I would have met him that night – the accident would have never happened.

Depression refers to empty feelings (feeling numb) from loss, grief on a deeper level with feelings of hopelessness.  Clayton’s teammates may experience withdrawal, not wanting to be around others or get out of bed, not feeling like talking, or suicidal thoughts.

Acceptance refers to accepting the reality that someone is gone and a potential for emotional stabilization.  It is important to mention that acceptance is not being okay with loss, because no one will ever be okay with losing someone close to them. Clayton’s teammates posting their condolences regarding his death is a great example of what acceptance can look like.

Although circumstances like this can be hard, it’s important to recognize where student athletes are at within these stages and that there is no direct order in which the stages present.  If you, as a student-athlete are struggling in identifying the stage you are at, it would benefit you to seek professional supports.