MADISON — Like many college athletes, Emma Jaskaniec has a rocky relationship with social media.
A senior football player at the University of Wisconsin, Jaskaniec feels disconnected when she’s not online.
“My generation,” she said, “I feel like if you’re not in it, you’re so out of the loop. It’s crazy.
“I wake up and check. I go to class and after class I check.
“I don’t even know if I’m addicted to social media, but I’m addicted to my phone.”
Staying online is a lifeline for the Menomonee Falls High School graduate. But this lifeline can lead to dangers for athletes.
“It’s a bit different for women’s soccer,” admitted Jaskaniec. “We are not a flagship sport.”
“I’ve spoken to other female athletes and I think a lot of people expect us to be perfect in everything we do,” Jaskaniec said. “Looking perfect or having the perfect body or performing the best you can.
“So seeing this on social media all the time really weighs on you.”
Jaskaniec, who uses meditation to help manage anxiety issues, was part of a four-person panel discussing the stigma of talking about and dealing with mental health issues. Joined her Tuesday evening at Union South were former UW football players Montee Ball and Chris Borland and Dr. Kris Eiring, former director of sports and clinical psychology at UW who is now in private practice. from the UW for “Tackle The Stigma”.
Athletes reluctant to show their vulnerability
The session was sponsored by Madison UNCUT, a non-profit media platform designed for UW athletes to share their life stories. The session lasted a little over an hour and the topics covered were varied.
Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior in 2011 who left UW with 77 rushing touchdowns and 83 total touchdowns, discussed his battle with alcoholism.
Borland, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a fifth-year senior in 2013, spoke about life since leaving the NFL after his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, concerned about potential head trauma .
Eiring, a decorated sprinter from New Holstein High School who ran track at UW from 1982 to 1986, discussed the gains society has made by recognizing mental health issues and discussing them more openly.
Three female college athletes have died by suicide since March 2. They are Katie Meyer, 22, goalkeeper and captain of the Stanford football team; Lauren Bernett, a 20-year-old softball player at James Madison; and 21 years old Sarah Shulze, who competed in cross country and track and field at UW.
Borland told the audience that athletes tend to mask their struggles in an effort to appear invincible.
“I think athletes are notoriously bad patients,” he said. “There are plenty of reasons not to share any of their struggles or to appear weak. You have every reason in the world not to appear vulnerable.
Ball only lasted two seasons in the NFL after being taken in the second round of the 2013 draft by Denver, largely due to his alcohol issues. In 2016, he was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 18 months probation after pleading guilty to two disorderly conduct charges and one battery charge as part of a plea deal for his role in two incidents of domestic violence.
Ball, who played sparingly as a freshman in 2009 and was considering asking for a job change at the start of the 2010 season, shared on Tuesday how he was struggling to deal with online criticism.
“It just wasn’t easy to digest some of these stories or comments,” Ball said. “If I missed a block it was grown men and women bashing me. It is an unreal experience. »
How did he cope?
“When I was drunk, it allowed me to silence those voices,” he said.
Check social media during and after games
Borland and Ball both admitted they couldn’t understand how college athletes deal with the pervasiveness of social media today.
Some UW athletes insist that they stay off their social media accounts during their respective seasons and not miss a beat. Some athletes have been known to check their accounts immediately after games — and sometimes at halftime of a contest — to get an idea of fan reviews.
“Talk about distractions and say your mind is completely where you don’t need to be,” Eiring said. “That’s it.”
Eiring suggested coaches shouldn’t be afraid to require their players to stay off their books during the season.
“Absolutely,” she said. “If it creates a really toxic environment and lowers your confidence, eliminate it for a short time.
“If we know something is affecting performance and it’s tangible and we can change it, why not consider it? Because you can always go back. So why not, at least temporarily?
Easier said than done. Coaches who make such a request could be criticized for exerting too much control over their athletes.
And Jaskaniec acknowledged that athletes might resist.
When asked how she and her teammates might react if head coach Paula Wilkins demanded players stay off social media during the season, Jaskaniec predicted a struggle would ensue.
“I think they would probably throw a tantrum and then we would argue with her,” Jaskaniec said. “And then, if she set foot, we would and we would realize that’s a good thing.”
Wilkins, like other UW coaches, requires players to toss their phones in a bucket before team meals.
No SMS. Just talking.
“It helped me communicate with my teammates a lot more,” Jaskaniec said. “Because I went to the restaurant and saw whole families – all four members – scrolling on the phones.”
Eiring admitted that requiring athletes to shut down their social media accounts in the new era of name, image and likeness (NIL) could prove problematic.
“If you look at it from a financial perspective (vs.) a wellness perspective,” she said, “you have to make a choice.”
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or text “Hopeline” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741-741. The Milwaukee County 24-hour crisis line can be reached at 414-257-7222.