Landon Wolf, Oklahoma State Football
Ben: Explain to us your athletic career growing up until today. How did you get to where you are as a college athlete?
Landon: I played football and basketball all the way up until high school, then just played football. I had a couple Division 2 and NAIA scholarship offers, but no Division 1 offers. I went to Oklahoma State as a preferred walk-on.
Ben: What was the feeling when you first stepped on campus at Oklahoma State. As a walk-on, how was your mentality going to your first practice?
Landon: I was very nervous and anxious. I had little to no idea of what to expect. I just wanted to make as few mistakes as possible.
Ben: Can you please give us some insight on your mental health experiences?
Landon: I had a family member close to me struggle with depression for years during my middle and high school years. I was able to see how it affected myself and everyone else. Each person felt it in their own way, but it was a shift nonetheless. There were other family members that I haven’t met in my family tree that have struggled with the depression. During the first few weeks of my first fall semester at OSU, a friend that was a year younger than me, a senior at my high school, was killed. His death hurt me and caused me to be really depressed for the first semester or two.
Ben: I’m sorry to hear that, how were you able to pull yourself out of that depression you were in? How has your family been able to lean on each other when someone loved is going through a mental health challenge?
Landon: Honestly, it just took time. There wasn’t one thing that helped shift the direction of my emotions, but having good friends to laugh with helped a ton. Finding the friends that helped me laugh through my situation didn’t occur until almost a year after my friend had passed. My family was distant from me physically during this time, but my friends became the people that I leaned on. My mom was a huge help in my other family member’s situation, but due to the complex relationships within my family and the fact that our family is very small, I kept my own issues to myself until the emotions were more manageable.
Ben: How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete?
Landon: It has allowed me to be more aware of what it may look and feel like in myself and in my teammates. I try to reach out and support the ones that I see struggling with the things I have identified with myself.
Ben: How do you think we can become more aware as a society about disorders and stop the stereotypes?
Landon: Being more informed about it in secondary school. Having more counseling and mental health resources available and easy to access. Family conversations that help guide children in tools to use to deal with the problems that will face in life.
Ben: Is Oklahoma State making these resources available? What can you do, as a football team to make sure that the school becomes more aware?
Landon: Our athletic program does have a sports psychologist available, but hie has only been used when people fail drug tests as a form of consequential preventative therapy. We do have access to counseling services on campus. I think more information being communicated to the student body regarding the easy access and benefits of therapy will help break the negative stigma and potentially increase participation.
Ben: Do you have any advice for people struggling with their own mental health journey right now?
Landon: Look for support from close friends and family members. People are willing to help if they know there is a problem.
Ben: Did you lean on family and friends when you were struggling? As men, we always talk about masculinity and being “tough.” What does masculinity mean to you and how can we get men to be more vulnerable and open up?
Landon: Definitely friends. I was away from my friends in my hometown that knew exactly what I was dealing with, so it took a while to build relationships on campus that I felt comfortable sharing something so personal to me with others. Being tough in my life meant having to deal with things on our own, as well as the expected men don’t cry story. Masculinity has caused me to build up an ego and a sense of self-pride that I am just now beginning to break down. My pride hasn’t been as easily identifiable such as being arrogant, but it shows up when I could use support but don’t ask for it. Masculinity to me is seen when men can ask for help without feeling shame and guilt. Forward progression is the key.
Ben: What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
Landon: Coaches should be more personable with their players and expand their role from just football coaches to life coaches. Just like anyone else, coaches are humans too and have their own set of time allotted and most likely a family to tend to, but understanding that players out of high school are looking for direction and guidance should make the coach be more deliberate and intentional when acting on their role and time spent with players.
Ben: Why do you think it is so hard for athletes to open up and talk with their coaches and teammates about what they are going through?
Landon: At the college level, it is very much a business. Any sign of weakness in the many alphas that are in any given team is considered displays of weakness and is unacceptable.
Ben: How do you think we can break this culture and make players feel like it is okay to open up and be vulnerable?
Landon: Focus on developing the whole person within athletic programs. In my sport, we focus so much on being better than the man next you in every regard, that often our lives outside of the stadium is neglected. Teaching the importance of balancing every factor of life is important for young people to understand and see how it may look.
Ben: This was great, thanks Landon!
Landon: No problem, thanks so much for having me!