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Suffering in silence: Tyler Hilinski battled his demons, but he’s not alone

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On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Pullman police discovered the body of 21-year old Tyler Hilinski in an apartment with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Next to him, a suicide note and a rifle were found.

Police said that the Washington State quarterback ‘did not show up for practice earlier in the day,’ which triggered a ‘wellness check’ by police and the team.

A native of Claremont, Calif., and alumnus of Upland High School, Tyler Hilinski comes from a brotherhood of quarterback prominence. His oldest brother, Kelly, a graduate of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, played quarterback at Ivy League Columbia University before finishing his career at Weber State. His younger brother, Ryan, is the starting quarterback at Orange Lutheran High School and a highly-touted recruited, earning offers from Arizona State, Ole Miss, and Washington State.

In his redshirt sophomore season at Washington State, Tyler Hilinski appeared in eight games, throwing for 1,176 yards and seven touchdowns. Most memorably, Hilinski came off the bench in a Week Two matchup against Boise State to pass for 240 yarsd and three scores en route to a 47-44 triple a triple overtime victory for the Cougars

Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski dies in apparent suicide

Hiliski was also slated to take over the full time starting job in Pullman with the departure of senior Luke Falk.

The loss of a young life is something all too common in the United States. In 2016, young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 had a suicide rate of 12.5 per 100,00, a rate that has seen a steady rise in each year since 2007.

More specifically, men in this age range commit suicide 3.57 times more often than women, and it is white men that accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2016.

Tyler Hilinski battled his demons, but he is not alone.

In a 2015 study conducted by University of Washington and University of South Carolina, doctors found that although the suicide rate in NCAA athletes is lower than the national average, male athletes, especially football players, have a significantly higher rate of suicide compared to their fellow female athletes.

It doesn’t seem, though, that mental health is a conversation which is being debated at a national level. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia are forms of mental illnesses that force people to suffer, and, because we are somehow unable to fully discuss these illnesses openly, many of these people suffer in their own silence.

We don’t know what demons the Tyler Hilinski was battling, and maybe we never will, but the proclivity of white males and football players committing suicide at a higher rate is a conversation that is vital to the education, prevention, and safety of young lives.

I started to play football as a high school freshman, and as I progressed in my career, what I saw around me were stars, rankings, camps, and articles, arbitrary things that assigned value to what many of my young peers regarded as their livelihood.

Like many other athletes at that level, all I wanted was the validation of a star, a camp invite, and a scholarship offer; I felt that because they never came, my worth as a football player was nothing.

We would like to pay our respects to the Hilinski family. And thought this was the best way to do so. We were honored to chat with Tyler for 2014's 'Year of the Quarterback' series & found him to be an incredible young man. He will be missed. @UplandFootball@CIFSS@wsucougfbpic.twitter.com/3T1E29PeXe

— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) January 17, 2018

Unlike many other athletes at that level, though, I was lucky: I didn’t necessarily need football to advance the trajectory of my life. I was able to forget about the pressure of stars, and hedge my bets elsewhere. Millions of athletes everywhere aren’t as economically, academically, or socially incline to do so.

As a result, young football players are forced to become a cog in the college recruiting machine. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on exposure camps, recruiting services, and trainers so that a man, who may have not played football at the highest level — if at all — can project onto them their future worth.

The pressure then falls on the athlete to work towards, live up to, and exceed the expectations placed upon them. Young football players put the entirety of their energy into this process — one that should hard work and not just set standard of tangibles — but at what cost?

All of their young lives, football players are put into a superficial box of size, speed, strength, and toughness, are forced to embody these tenants to even be considered as a ‘good’ player, and are only validated when they receive a star or offer.

The [recruiting] process often ignores one basic fact: These are just kids.

And kids who still trying to figure themselves out. Kids still wondering if football is even what they’re best at. Kids that have self-esteem issues which are only clarified by the fact they are literally being ranked from best to worst.

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In a time where five percent of the population suffers from some form of depression or mental illness and the rate of suicide is growing, it is absolutely essential to understand the increasing pressures that we, as an society and athletic community, put on our youth.

Never should a coach, recruiter, trainer, or anything of the like tell a young athlete to ‘toughen up,’ or ‘man up,’ a mantra all too familiar in the realm of football.

What should happen is the formation of healthy, dynamic, and comfortable relations between coaches, trainers, recruiters, that allow for any persons of whatever party to step back and be able to recognize when their mental health is deteriorating.

Of course, we don’t want it to interfere with the success a program or a player, but there comes a point in time where we must fully understand and come to terms with the fact that football is just a game, and for all its participants, it will come to an end.

Gone but not forgotten. #RIP3pic.twitter.com/XMBMLiFPik

— WSU Cougar Football (@wsucougfb) January 17, 2018

Never be afraid to seek help; it is not weak, wrong, or bad of you to do so. You are never alone in your battle. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 1-800-273- 8255

Be aware of the warning signs:

Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

Suicide is a preventable cause of death, and it is about time that we shed a realistic light of the gravities which weigh on the every day lives of young athletes.

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