• Kylie Koontz

The Hidden Opponent brings 'More Than an Athlete' campaign to MSU

Recently, a social media campaign on Instagram called “More Than an Athlete” was launched at Minot State University by The Hidden Opponent (THO), an advocacy group founded by Victoria Garrick. After giving a TED Talk in 2017, the former Division I volleyball player from University of Southern California became a passionate mental health awareness advocate. She then founded THO, an online community of student-athletes and others who face mental health issues and want to help raise mental health awareness.

Bethany Theodore and Calli Delsman of the MSU women’s basketball team joined the local THO chapter on campus and are currently serving as co-presidents and campus captains.

“I wanted to be involved because I have struggled with mental health issues throughout my whole college career, and especially being an athlete, I know how hard it can be to not want to bring up your issues to anyone because ‘athletes are supposed to be tough,’” Delsman said.

Trying to help fight the stigma, Delsman and Theodore wanted to do something to advocate for student-athletes at MSU and make them feel heard.

“I felt that there was a lack of awareness and support for student-athletes here at Minot State and I really wanted to change that,” Theodore said.

With THO now at MSU, they began to use the global #MoreThanAnAthlete hashtag to advance the cause on campus.

The “More Than an Athlete” campaign first launched in February of 2018 and quickly turned into a viral movement. For the last two years, this phrase has been used by professional athletes to high school athletes, showing that they are more than what society expects them to be. Using this hashtag, student-athletes at MSU began posting to their Instagram stories about who they were besides an athlete.

“I am a daughter, a friend, a big sister, a gym addict, a kitty momma, and an Herbalife lover,” posted sophomore basketball player Kennedy Harris. “Being an athlete is a big part of who I am, but it does not define me.”

“I know from experience that I’ve been in a situation where I felt that basketball was all I had and if I wasn’t performing to my best it ruined my whole day,” says Delsman.

College athletes are expected to dedicate a huge portion of their life to their sport. It takes hours of work, and people forget that they have lives outside of being an athlete.

“I think we all get so caught up in being an athlete that we forget we are so much more than that,” says Theodore.

When a campaign like this is brought to a college campus, the outreach is tremendous. Just by posting on her Instagram story, all 2,347 of Harris’ followers saw what she said. Not only do other athletes notice, but non-athletes, parents, faculty, and staff also see the posts. By launching this campaign, THO’s message reached thousands of people in just a day; the campaign is already making progress and helping to create a better culture at MSU for the student-athletes.

The mental health of athletes has long been neglected. Out of all college students in the U.S., 33% experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions and 30% of that group seek help, according to the World Health Organization.

On the other hand, of those college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10% seek help.

Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, depression, and/or anxiety. Athletes — especially young ones — are pressured their whole lives to be strong and never show weakness. Seeking help or admitting they need help goes against all they have been taught from a young age. THO is working to change that and create a culture of openness and understanding.

The “More Than an Athlete” campaign is just the beginning for THO and all the things they can do for Minot State student-athletes. With Delsman and Theodore leading the way, MSU is on their way to creating that culture of openness and understanding.

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