… it staggers us, it makes the papers, it’s a big deal.
Sometimes, as in the 2016 case of Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge, it’s not a mystery: Macho, covering up concussions that are starting to produce symptoms, easy access to a gun, a fight with a girlfriend, a history of depression. What one remembers of Karageorge is not the mystery; it is the unbearable pathos of his having placed himself inside of a dumpster before pulling the trigger.
More typically, the suicides of intense and gifted student athletes – like, most recently, Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski – are indeed mysterious. Most exhibit few to no overt signs of serious mental disturbance; up until the moment of death, they seem genial, social, active in their sport. Indeed, intensely active – and this is something Karageorge shares with many more enigmatic student athlete suicides: All of these people seem too intense about training and winning.
“He was really hard on himself,” a Yale friend said of Cameron Dabaghi, who jumped off the Empire State Building eight years ago. “If he lost a tennis match, it wasn’t because of a blister or a bad line call … He believed in fairness, he believed he had to be better.”
“Madison [Holleran] was beautiful, talented, successful — very nearly the epitome of what every young girl is supposed to hope she becomes. But she was also a perfectionist who struggled when she performed poorly,” writes Kate Fagan about a University of Pennsylvania runner who jumped off a parking garage. Another woman, an intensely competitive track star at Wesleyan, set herself on fire on one of the school’s playing fields.
Hilinski took (without telling him) a friend’s AR-15-style rifle – a much more physically destructive form of suicide than the pistol Karageorge used. Certainly any discussion of young, often impulsive, student suicides needs to note the wide availability of profoundly destructive firepower in the United States.
Hilsinki’s predecessor as WSU quarterback tells Yahoo Sports:
“I feel like at times we feel like we can’t express our emotions because we’re in a masculine sport and him being a quarterback, people look up to you as a leader. He felt like he really probably couldn’t talk to anybody. We’ve got to change some of that stuff. We have to have resources and not have a stigma of people going to that.”
A former Clemson player:
“Especially a male athlete, and a football player in such a physical rough sport, you never want to be the guy that’s having to admit that something’s wrong. You get that mindset of always pushing through. Nothing’s wrong. I’m good to go.”