Jim Harbaugh Is Completely Wrong on Mental Health

The University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh was in the headlines last week stirring up controversy. In a recent interview with The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, Harbaugh criticized former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer saying, “Urban’s had a winning record. A really phenomenal record everywhere he’s been, but also controversy follows everywhere he’s been.” What Harbaugh is saying is obviously true as Meyer coached Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper at the University of Florida in 2008, and was suspended the first three games of last year’s season for his handling of a domestic violence incident involving his former assistant coach Zach Smith. 

There’s no denying that Meyer has a few marks on his record, but when it comes to the marquee matchups, he dominated Harbaugh – beating him four years in a row. Harbaugh is clearly trying to distract the public from his disappointing first four seasons in Ann Arbor.   

But the latest Harbaugh news has my blood boiling. When discussing NCAA transfer policies Harbaugh expressed skepticism in players citing mental health as a reason to transfer. In an interview with ESPNU Big Ten, Harbaugh implied some players may not be truthful when citing mental health to transfer, “That’s not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters, especially at a college.” 

Harbaugh has had two players apply for transfer waivers due to their mental health concerns, James Hudson and Oliver Martin. 

Glenna Hudson, James’s mother, sounded off on Harbaugh for his comments and treatment of her son in an interview WTOL 11 Toledo: “This is why people don’t come out and say these things because people don’t believe them,” she said. “So it upsets me because athletes of all people – I mean there are lots of athletes who suffer with depression, I’m sure, that don’t say anything.”

Glenna Hudson is spot on in her criticism of Harbaugh especially when she said, “this is why people don’t come out and say these things because people don’t believe them.” 

Speaking about mental health has always carried a heavy stigma, and Jim Harbaugh is continuing to drive that culture. His comments were out of line and extremely disrespectful to people suffering from mental health issues. Playing Division I football at a top-tier program with gigantic expectations as a teenager is extremely stressful and the thought that some might be lying about it is so misguided. There are stats to back it up as a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016 found that one in four college athletes suffer from depression. 

I hope this a learning experience for other coaches on how to not handle mental health concerns. Looking forward to watching you lose to Ohio State for the fifth year in a row, Coach. 

1 COMMENT

  1. —–Speaking about mental health has always carried a heavy stigma..

    I’d like to see a complete discussion of what you mean by “stigma”. It is far too facile an explanation.

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