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The Hidden Opponent: Tackling tough topics for student athletes

When asked what characteristics make an athlete, a range of answers may come to mind: power, agility, grace or confidence.

Behind that drive, there is often a struggle.

A new organization on campus is making it easier for Salisbury University’s athletes to look after their needs, starting with mental wellness.

The Hidden Opponent serves college campuses across the country, educating student athletes on available support options and advocating for their mental health.

The non-profit organization was founded by former University of Southern California volleyball player, Victoria Garrick, in 2019 and is now present at over 200 college campuses worldwide, according to THO's website.

This semester marks the first that THO operates at SU.

THO ambassador Abby Mace, a senior, is an outfielder for Sea Gulls softball.

The duties of THO ambassadors, also called Campus Captains, include arranging activities to raise awareness and dedicating select Sea Gulls sporting events to mental health advocacy.

Mace said THO’s main goal is to banish the stigma that athletes should be "stronger" and above seeking treatment for their mental health.

Although starting out small, Mace said she hopes it is just a matter of time before THO is on more people’s radar.

“We’re still figuring out what [getting rid of the stigma] looks like on our campus as we navigate the fall sports season,” Mace said. “Hopefully in the coming years it will be more prominent on our campus.”

With no student-athlete-specific counseling options available at SU before, coaches often took on the role of providing guidance.

Basketball coach Maurice Williams said it’s a part of his job to point players in the right direction when their mental health may begin to suffer.

One of the most important factors for student athletes looking to keep a sound mind is maintaining balance. Williams tries his best to ensure players are well-rounded and have the complete school experience to keep their minds at ease.

“I encourage [my players] to pursue things outside of basketball,” Williams said. “There are some players involved in some really cool things outside of sports, whether it’s clubs, or jobs or being campus leaders. I encourage that, that’s what college is about.”

Mace says the process of snuffing out the stigma surrounding student athletes and mental health starts with the team.

“I think the first step is to just be real, be vulnerable,” Mace said. “When it’s time to share your stories, go first.”



Gull Life Editor

Featured image courtesy of @tho_salisbury

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