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Open-Letter to Ohio State Football

Dear Matt,

I know you've probably been more focused on the recent NFL draft, but I've been fascinated by the quarterback drama at Ohio State last season, the upcoming Buckeye season, and thinking in particular about some of the ways in which high-stakes athletics almost seem designed to generate anxiety in athletes..."

You both are probably well aware that anxiety disorders are categorized by feelings of anxiety, fear and worry about future events and as reactions to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as a racing heart and shakiness. There are a number of anxiety disorders including situational anxiety disorders.

As a mental health professional who just so happens to be a sports fan when I first heard of and began to follow the quarterback controversy at Ohio State University (OSU) I suspected that if it persisted beyond the beginning of the season, then The Buckeyes would not repeat as the national champions. While some may think Urban Meyers’ strategy and ingenious because it would motivate J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones to always be at their best - a mental health professional might be more concerned with how this unnecessary maneuver might contribute to any one of several anxiety disorders. For example an SAD or a situational anxiety disorder. A SAD is fear or worry caused by new situations or changing events and it can also be caused by various events that make that individual uncomfortable. Often, an individual will experience panic attacks or extreme anxiety in specific situations. How uncomfortable was it this season for Barrett and Jones to have their status as the starting OSU quarterback, for the defending national champions, up in the air for the world to see?

Generalized anxiety disorders, clinically speaking refer to a condition that persists over 6 months. The OSU quarterback anxiety builder began the day after The Buckeyes won the national championship in January up until minutes before the first game in September. For almost nine months these two young Black men playing at predominately white institutional and for a college football powerhouse had to worry about what their teammates, family members, classmates, media, and NFL scouts thought about their situation. Think about living in such a crystal clear fishbowl were every practice pass, handoff and run are analyzed. Not to mention the panic that might accompany Meyers open declaration that there were objective and subjective criteria associated with his decision. As a college professor I can only imagine if I decided not to provide "my" students with clear grading criteria. This seemed to be Meyers way of inducing more anxiety. To be clear everybody has anxiety. It’s one of nature’s greatest tricks. It keeps us alive, alert, and ready. However your mind can start to go haywire and cause a fight-or-flight response even when you’re in no immediate danger.

Then the season began and Cardell Jones was the opening day starting quarterback but played poorly against Northern Illinois. Then after the first game and for the second week in a row Barrett entered and replaced Jones during the game with the outcome still uncertain. Oh, I forgot to mention that both Jones and Barrett had to deal with the anxiety generated by media questions over whether they would go pro after winning the national championship. Then Jones started for the Buckeyes against Hawaii and Virginia Tech, but was pulled during the Northern Illinois game. Jones started again against Western Michigan and played the entire game against Indiana. However by the time the Maryland game rolled around Meyer had decided that position was now a three-man job adding Braxton Miller to the mix.

Against Penn State Jones started, but Braxton and Barrett played too. Still through all of this back and forth, anxiety producing change OSU was undefeated. Although OSU beat Penn State easily… Barrett was the starter against Rutgers. To make a long story short Jones started against Minnesota and Barrett against Illinois and then Barrett against Michigan. A win against Michigan State and OSU would return to the title game…

Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse and make the anxiety disorder more difficult to overcome. I wondered how quarterback flip flopping was impacting Jones, Barrett, and Braxton in the classroom? Were they more worried about starting (a football game) or their statistics class? Of course football players are always concerned about football, but maladaptive behaviors accompany excessive worrying and they can play out in the classroom! Were these young men experiencing any restlessness or fatigue? Might their up and down on-the-field performances be by-products of concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances, which are all symptomatic of anxiety disorders?

As you may or may not know OSU lost to Michigan State and will not repeat as national champions. So much for Meyers self-induced quarterback controversy/anxiety producer….



PS… Globally as of 2010 approximately 273 million (4.5% of the population) had an anxiety disorder. Equally important, NCAA research shows that almost 85 percent of certified athletic trainers believe anxiety disorders are currently an issue with student-athletes.

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