Utah Utes' Coach Kyle Whittingham addresses the importance of athletes' mental health

Kyle Whittingham
Posted at 10:22 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 04:21:02-04

After star gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of the team competition Tuesday, citing a need to focus on her mental health, the topic of athletes' mental well-being has become a topic of discussion.

The issue came up Tuesday at the Pac-12 Conference's media day when Coach Kyle Whittingham of the University of Utah football team was asked about it.

Whittingham was asked if mental health was brought up after the tragic loss of Utes running back Ty Jordan in December.

"It was tough to deal with the Ty Jordan situation, still is. Fortunately, our administration is committed. We have a full department that's committed, that's dedicated to mental health and counselors that our players can talk to and visit with," the coach responded. "We try to make it a point of emphasis to our players that it's not a sign of weakness to seek mental health assistance. That's part of life. It's the same as being physically ill. If you need to get help, see somebody, there's no shame or no stigma attached to that. I think our coaches, our assistant coaches, have done a really good job of conveying that to our players. Our players seem to do a really good job of taking advantage of the resources that we do have."


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Aside from the tragedy, Whittingham also discussed how that focus on mental health has evolved during his career.
"When I played, that wasn't even a topic. I mean, it didn't exist. When I got into coaching, it didn't exist. The last five, six, seven years it's started to come to the forefront," he said. "I think it's really benefited. I know it's benefited a bunch of our players. Again, it's something that we continually try to educate them that, 'Hey, this is nothing to be ashamed of. It's not a sign of being weak or not tough or any of that stuff. It's reality. Let us know when you're hurting and when you need some help and we'll make sure we get it for you.'"

Sen. Mitt Romney also weighed in Tuesday on Twitter, specifically giving kudos to Biles.

"I love and admire Simone Biles and our Olympians. Beyond their determination and sacrifice, they evidence the greatness of the human spirit, in victory and in defeat. I take pride in them, not so much for the medals they win as for the grace, humanity & character of their hearts," Romney wrote.

Three U of U gymnasts went to Tokyo for the games this year. Grace McCallum was a member of the silver medal-winning Team USA, Kara Eaker unfortunately had to sit out after testing positive for COVID-19, and MyKayla Skinner was eliminated in the individual qualifying rounds.

However, The Salt Lake Tribune reports that if Biles decides she is unable to compete in the individual vault finals, Skinner would be the next woman up.

Sports psychologists say global moments like this can be a teaching moment for how we handle the mental health of athletes of all skill ranges.

Dr. Tony Kemmochi with Intermountain Healthcare talked Tuesday about the moments of doubt, failure and fear that all athletes face — and how treating them like physical injuries will help normalize athletes asking for help before these issues grow out of control.

Hear what he has to say in the video below: