Speaking Up and Speaking Out

This post is different than the type of post I’m used to. This isn’t meant to be funny in anyway. But maybe it’ll help others speak out the way many at my school have today.

Many people hate on social media, especially older generations. They think it makes our interactions impersonal and they devalue what we have to say due to social media. But I think it’s just the opposite. Now with social media, we have a way to share stories with one another and find people with similar stories to share. To help form a web of people to rise up together and hopefully make a change in this world.

Yesterday, my college athletics department posted on Facebook about their #breakthestigma campaign. This is their non-sincere way of showing prospective athletes parents that they care about their athletes mental health. Well they don’t.

Me, being someone that purged the athletics department from my social media in hopes of helping my own mental health, did not see this post. But thank you to one strong and confident athlete, I heard about it. Now their story is not my story to tell, so I’ll keep this part short. This former athlete shared their own horror story of what happened to them and their own mental health while playing for a team at the university. How the athletic department did nothing to help and made everything worse. How the athletic department cut them out because they were a burden and a distraction.

I am not friends with this girl on Facebook (I’ve deleted anyone that is not a close friend) but I actually knew her in college. One of my friends from college shared the story and told her own story about what happened while also being a student athlete. This prompted me to see what our athletic department was posting and share the girls post and my own story. But for all of you, you get to see the bigger story of what happened and I hope this helps any other former athlete or anyone who is scared to tell your story. There are others out there, you are not alone, and hopefully all of us together can truly #breakthestigma and form a better world for our successors.

Lacrosse got me through high school. When I was bullied, lacrosse was there for me. I never had a coach that really helped but when I arrived at the high school I had transferred to, at least my coaches understood. They didn’t make my life worse and they truly wanted each player to be the best they could be.

I was a great lacrosse goalie and earned a spot on one of the most prestigious club teams in my area. This helped me get a spot on a D3 college lacrosse team. This is what I wanted. I wanted to experience college, get a good degree, drink, but also play the sport I loved more than anything.

I got to college and things quickly went south. I had very bad social anxiety and moving six hours away from my family didn’t help. I struggled to be around people all the time so I would always keep an earphone in and listen to Mayday Parade or Rise Against or A Day to Remember to help keep me calm. My coach was the person that would not allow me to listen to music and even took my earphones out. I told her I needed it to help calm me down but that didn’t help the cause. Most of my friends knew this was the reason I listened to music and were totally fine with me always having an earbud in. But not my coach. And no, I wasn’t listening during practice or meetings or anything, just while walking around and at gatherings.

As the year went on, it was clear my coach didn’t like me or my family. She completely disregarded my mother when my mom was so proud of herself for getting to my game on time (she drove from Florida to Virginia through the night in a minivan with two extremely large dogs). My coach didn’t care and literally turned away from her when my mom went to greet her and to tell her how happy she was to see the team play.

But whatever, I was the star goalie, made all conference as a freshman, what could really happen, right?

The summer going into sophomore year arrives and I break my elbow. I fell down the stairs at my friends house trying to catch her dogs that I accidentally let out. All good, I should be healed by our fallball tournament.

I get to campus and we have a new goalie on the team. She is a really good goalie and has the same views and perspective on life as my coach has. Now, I’m nothing. I share my concerns to my coach about how I feel like my spot was given away before I even have a chance to comeback. She waves it off.

Then my breakdown happens. The athletic department set up my follow up exam to get cleared to play. I give them my insurance information and they tell me they got me a doctor that my insurance covers. I get there super excited to finally get cleared and earn my spot back. They let me know when I get there that my insurance won’t cover the exam and x-ray so I say I cannot go there because I can’t pay and leave. I break down crying hysterically and go back to my coaches office. That’s when the head of the department comes in and starts saying I yelled and was rude to the medical clinic I went to. I start getting yelled at like I’m a child and break down more. My coach (knowing who I was) and my athletic department didn’t defend me at all or even believe me. Yet the girls on my team and even some parents could not believe what happened and were angry my coach did nothing to defend me knowing I’d never yell at someone and knowing who I am.

I completely broke down and felt like I had no one. My mom once again drives in a minivan with the two dogs this time from New York to Virginia because I cannot stop crying. Everyone is worried for me at this point.

Fast forward a bit, I’m cleared and playing. I go out to a party one night and come back with a group of girls on the team. The other goalie lives in the same dorm as me so I go and chill with her. We weren’t close but we respected each other. This is when she tells me how coach has it out for me. She tells me to be careful with anything I say or do around coach because coach has been trying to turn the other goalie against me. She’s been going to the other goalie and telling her how I’m a bad teammate because of things I do at practice and because I’m not supportive enough. The other goalie said she tried to tell coach that I do help her and that we respect each other and how we get in the zone but coach is super adamant about swaying her to think I’m a bad teammate. I thank her and leave.

Her story made sense to me because coach always made sly comments to me and I couldn’t understand what they meant. Her story let me know that they weren’t bad attempts at being playful but that she truly disliked me.

Spring season comes along and we have a rule that everyone needs to pass their fitness test to earn a jersey. I earn mine on my second attempt at the gassers test. I failed the first attempt and went back a few days later not planning on running that test but to support the girls that were doing the other fitness test. I didn’t have to pass the 300s test again (got it on my first try) but still wanted to support everyone at the retest. I get there and they’re all saying they switched to doing the gassers instead. The assistant coach sees me and tells me to lace up because I still need to pass the gassers. I didn’t plan on taking the gassers that day but the assistant coach told me to when I got there. So I laced up and just barely beat the test. Everyone was so excited and I was, too!

Then at practice a bit later some people were taking the 50s test (by this point I passed what I needed to and had my jersey). One of them was the other goalie. Coach showed her favoritism. She didn’t pass the test but she said if she ran one more 50 (you sprint 50 yards in 10 seconds and jog back in 20 seconds and do it 15 times) in the 10 seconds she count it as a pass. After practice I voiced my concern to the coaches in private about how we were going for the same spot and I passed everything and everyone else on the team who had a jersey passed everything, we should all be held accountable. She turned it back on me and started yelling at me about how could I say that but I retook a test without her there so how could she believe I beat it. The assistant coach never once spoke up to defend me. I just spent 10 minutes after practice getting yelled at about everything. I left, crying.

Our first game comes, it’s rocky. The team is WAY better than us. I let in three shots in a row. I get taken out and cursed at so loud that everyone in the stands hears it. The other goalie lets in three in a row, she gets told it’s okay and can totally get the next one.

All through the season similar situations happen. I let in back to back goals and I’m instantly benched but she can let in 10 with no repercussions. Then, I become back up. And I’m not crying about being backup but I obviously want the starter spot so I ask what I can do. They tell me I’m not doing enough extra sessions. Also, at this point I’m a double major taking minimum six classes a semester along with being an editor for the paper and since I was in an upper level PR class at the time I had four public relations clients AND a management client all at the same time. I don’t talk back, I start scheduling any free time I have to do extra sessions. It’d be all fine and dandy but every time I try to schedule an extra session I’m either told it’s too early, too late, all three coaches are busy at that time, or the other goalie has that time already (although she was always allowed and did join my extra session times but I wasn’t allowed to join hers). So clear favoritism at this point and the whole squad sees it too. Too bad everyone is scared to speak out and lose their spot.

Much more happens but let’s just roll on over to junior year. My confidence and mental health is at its lowest. I spend every night crying until 2AM just to wake up at 5AM for lifting or practice. I’m at the point where nothing matters to me anymore and I HATE my life.

We start of junior year being told we’re on a point system now. Every day during practice our coaches will rate us and posted it on their door in the athletic building for everyone to see. Great way to not having 32 girls hate each other, right? This point system is just terrifying. It is all anyone can think about and no one is supportive of anyone anymore. This just totally tanks the last big of mental stability I have.

My mental health and confidence are quickly declining throughout the year. The other goalie left the school so coach is attempting to buddy up to me again but then will just cut me like a knife. One day during the off season I came in to let her know I would be away for the weekend, I wouldn’t miss any lacrosse events. It was my dads birthday so my family was flying down to Florida to go to Halloween Horror Nights together. She made another rich kid joke. And yes, I know everyone is going to be ‘why are you getting down about rich kid jokes?’ But when someone in authority makes you feel less for who you are and what you were born into, it fucking hurts. She made me feel embarrassed about being wealthy by all of the malicious comments she made about my money. Which is ridiculous! I’m so fucking proud of my dad for how successful he is! But it got to the point where I hated coming in and telling her I was flying to Florida for the weekend (often during the offseason) because I’d always get hit with another rich kid joke and an eye roll. She should not be making comments about my parents money to me and especially to other athletes but she always made comments about it to other people when it was not even her own business to worry about.

Junior year keeps rolling and I start isolating myself. I don’t like being around anyone which is very hard when you do PR and journalism for the school. But at this point, I’m an editor for the paper, I have a great PR internship, I’m getting all of my classes done and I’m thinking towards graduation in another year.

I start getting yelled at for practice times. I set my schedule early in the fall semester and gave it to my coaches to let them know my class times. I’ve told them many times, as a double major, I do not have much wiggle room. I have already dropped classes because they didn’t fit with my lacrosse schedule but not I’m an upperclassmen and I had to get these classes done. Well, practice started some days during my classes or internship. I would arrive late, change, jump into practice and stay late.

I get called into the coaches office one day and the coach is saying I don’t care anymore and I’m always late and I’ve been telling people I want to quit. I did tell one girl that in confidence but told them I wouldn’t leave the team hanging like that. She goes on for an hour about how terrible of a person I am and teammate and player. Just tearing me to pieces. Telling me it’s wrong to miss practice for my internship and I obviously don’t care about practice since I don’t wear my practice clothes to my internship so I waste time changing in the locker room. Of course I cannot wear my gross lacrosse sweats and pinney to an internship! And it was wrong for me to care so much about my business fraternity and my newspaper, things that would one day get me a job.

I call my sister afterwards crying, she was also a student athlete at her school, she must understand. Nope, this never happened to her. I call my dad and he tells me how proud he was to see his daughter play college lacrosse but I can’t be treated like that. That school matters more than me playing a sport and he’ll always support my decisions.

The next day I went into my coaches office and told her that. I said ‘I love lacrosse, I love my team more than anything and would never want to hurt them. But I came here to get a degree and a job after college so the paper, my internship, and the business fraternity are too important to leave.’ All she said was ‘clean out your locker.’ So I did. She told everyone on the team that I up and quit a week before our first game. She made everyone on the team believe I left them and didn’t care about the team anymore. Besides my close friends, everyone left me. I was more alone than ever.

My dad reached out to the school to tell them that a coach told me sports were more important than the 40K a year degree he was paying for. They sent him to someone else. They all stopped responding to him because they didn’t care.

I was lucky to be on the paper. When the student staff heard about it, they took me in. They invited me everywhere with them. Things started to look up. I was a whole different person. My professor saw me one day out of class and asked me what changed because I was smiling in class. In my first three years of college I never smiled. A professor had to point it out to show me how much happier I was.

There is so much more to this story, I could go on for days telling people about what the athletic trainers said, what the athletic director said, and a million things my coaches said to me. This isn’t even half as bad as what others endured at this school and at other places. To anyone else that has endured this level of mental anguish from people who were supposed to help you, I hope it got better. And if you ever need to talk, I’m here for you. Because the worst thing I ever did for my mental health was play a sport at Shenandoah University.

Published by Rachie Levy

Just a girl attempting to organize all of my thoughts!

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