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Volume 25 No. 239
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Student Athletes Not Afraid To Express Themselves On Social Issues

Current and former NCAA athletes believe they should not be afraid to express themselves and speak out on issues that are important to them. That was the general consensus of the student athletes appearing on stage at the ’18 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. “As a student-athlete, you have the best power,” said Univ. of Cincinnati swimmer Enna Selmanovic. “If you’re passionate about something, you should speak up.” Former Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City basketball player Noah Knight, who now serves as Chair of the D-I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said he has seen the student-athlete voice “progress and grow.” He said if student-athletes “feel strongly enough about a certain cause, they have the resources around them to get that off the ground” and they “have people wanting to help them.” However, the panel also thought student-athletes should be mindful of exactly how and when they speak out. Selmanovic said student-athletes should utilize their voice to “capitalize on the good things, not on the bad things” and “support others rather than tarnish them.” Seton Hall basketball player Michael Nzei said, “It’s about respect for yourself and your teammates and the team and the organization.”

MENTAL HEALTH AN IMPORTANT TOPIC: The panel also addressed the emerging issue of mental health, and what role student-athletes can play in the conversation. Virginia Tech volleyball player Jaila Tolbert feels she has great support from mental health professionals on her campus, but noted the issue is “still very prevalent” at other institutions. She said, “Not all schools are on that same level. ... I’ve had great experiences with our team doctors and understanding breaking the stigma is the way to get past the issue and vocalizing is not something that should be hush-hush.” Nzei added, “A lot of people don’t want you to know they have a problem, to look at them as weak or have people talk about what they go through.” Knight thinks responsibility also lies on the student-athlete. “Breaking the stigma is the biggest part,” he said, “because the resources are coming, but as student-athletes we need to realize that we might not be in the best state of mind and we need to seek out these professionals for help.”

QUICK HITS:

  • Kansas State football player Dalton Risner, on speaking out as a team captain: “You have to be really careful when you’re given that stage. You have to realize that you represent 130 guys from all sorts of different parts of the country -- different ethnicities, different backgrounds, kids that were raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and kids like me that were raised on a farm in Wiggins, Colorado.”
  • Grambling State football player De'Arius Christmas, who spent one year at East Mississippi Community College, on attending a junior college: “It’s like a big high school.”