Erasing the Stigma

October 2, 2018

Theo Fleury, a former National Hockey League star, had a crowd of William and Mary athletes at the edge of their seats. 

“20 years ago, I had a fully loaded pistol in my mouth, ready to pull the trigger and end my life,” he said.

As detailed in a story in the school's student paper, The Flat Hat, Fleury told the story of his personal struggles as part of a presentation by We're All A Little Crazy, a group that seeks to end the stigma surrounding mental health in college athletics.

“The media just treats it like each one of these athletes or celebrities that comes out with a story, it’s like a one-off tragedy,” Eric Kussin, the group's founder, said. “… All it was doing was reinforcing this notion that only one in five people have this, and those people who were coming out with their story were one of those one in five people … there’s gotta be a way for us to communicate this better. Everyone in the world, five out of five, deals with mental health complications at some level.”

Tribe Athletics submitted an application for We're All A Little Crazy to visit, and William and Mary was chosen as one of 15 colleges that the group would visit.

“The great thing about having athletes speaking with other athletes is that there is a connection,” Eric Garrison, Assistant Director of Health Promotion, said. “Oftentimes athletes are raised and trained to [tell themselves], ‘You’re better than this, you’re stronger than this, you can get through this.’”

Fleury said that mental toughness was important for athletes, and that just as athletes needed to make time for their physical well-being, they also had to make time for their mental well-being.

Fleury, whose NHL career ended in 2003 after a series of brawls and punishments for substance abuse, said that publishing his 2009 autobiography “Playing with Fire” and hearing from fans with similar experiences helped him realize he was not alone. He said he would have benefited greatly from having access to places like the Wellness and Counseling centers at William and Mary.

“I just wished there was a safe place where I could have gone and talked about it,” Fleury said. “And not have to be alone and suffer and cause all the damage and wreckage that I did in all my relationships, because I held onto this secret. But I’m very hopeful because of being at the universities. They’re not ignoring it. They’re actually taking initiatives.”

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