No one ever doubted Jahmir Smith’s toughness.
Eighteen months ago, after Notre Dame’s spring football game in April 2019, coach Brian Kelly commented on the ruggedness of his young running back.
“Jahmir is a truck,” Kelly said of the 6-foot, 205-pounder. “He’d just as soon run over you as miss you, which is fine. We know what his style is. He’s a physical kid. He had a hamstring (issue) and fought through it. I’m proud of him.”
Despite Smith’s decision to step away from football this week — and maybe because of it — Kelly had reason once more to be proud of the third-year sophomore from Sanford, N.C. After letting his decision simmer for 48 hours, Smith posted the explanation on Wednesday via his Twitter account.
It wasn’t so much about lack of opportunity, although Smith had just five carries for 15 yards through the first four games. His reason stemmed from something far more serious.
“Talking about mental health issues is a difficult subject matter for many,” Smith posted. “For those struggling with mental health, asking for help can seem discouraging, but it is the first step towards improving. I have decided to take this first step, and after speaking with my family and Coach Kelly, I have decided that it is best for me to take some time away from football to work on improving my mental health.”
For too long, athletes in general — and football players in particular — weren’t allowed to reveal their humanity. Just as they were expected to play through physical injuries, emotional and psychological pain was typically brushed aside as well.
Thankfully, in recent years, that seems to be changing. Earlier this fall, Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Dak Prescott shared publicly his struggles with anxiety and depression in the wake of his older brother’s suicide in April.
Most fans on social media lauded Prescott for going public with his struggles, although predictably there was at least one national TV shockentator who argued Prescott was actually weak for baring his soul.
Smith’s tweet, meanwhile, earned more likes than comments by a 10/1 ratio. And Thursday, Kelly added his public endorsement of the decision.
“Mental health (of players) has been an issue in my 30 years of coaching,” Kelly said. “i don’t know if it’s ever easy to talk about, but (today) it doesn’t have a connotation of weakness.”
Not when millions of Americans deal with the same sort of debilitating issues day to day, people from all backgrounds and demographics and professions. According to the most recent data shared by the National Institute for Mental Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the U.S. had a least one major depressive episode in 2017.
That figure represented more than 7% of the U.S. adult population.
Now, in Smith, a former three-star recruit who turned down the likes of USC and Wisconsin, those who struggle to maintain their mental health have another high-profile example of strength from the sporting world.
“Jahmir is the opposite of weak; he’s a strong young man,” Kelly said. “I love Jahmir for his courage more than anything else.”
Why, Kelly was asked, do athletes tend to be coming forward more frequently to share their stories of mental anguish?
“It’s always been a concern when you’re playing a competitive game, one where there’s so many pressures to live up to expectations, whether they be your own or others,” Kelly said. “And keep on that at a national institution. (Now) bring in the academics, and mental health is certainly something I’ve always had on my plate in my 30 years (of coaching). I just think it doesn’t carry the same negative connotation that it has over the years.”
That development is long overdue.
Source: Forbes – Business