COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WDVM) – For Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley, his team’s mental well-being is a priority.
“There are a lot of things that go on Monday through Friday in these kids lives,” Locksley said. “It’s important for us to be able to make it a safe place for them.”
For Locksley, taking care of student athletes’ mental health is an issue that’s near and dear to his heart. Locksley’s son Meiko Locksley, who was shot and killed at 25-years-old in 2017, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.
“It’s important for me because as a parent who lived through dealing with a child that had mental health issues,” Locksley said. “I just want to be able to create an environment here at Maryland that encourages our players that it’s ok if you’re not feeling good and if you need to talk about things, or you have some issues.”
This Friday’s Maryland game against Iowa is a big one for the Terps. It presents the team with an opportunity to start a season 5-0 for the first time in 20 years.
But what Maryland is doing off the field Friday is just as important. For Friday’s game, Maryland is hosting a mental health awareness game, with the help of Locksley’s friend and the founder of I’m Changing the Narrative Rachel Joy Baribeau.
This Friday, Baribeau is debuting a special blue and gold chair that she says is years in the making. Baribeau hopes that it will encourage discussion of mental health at the game.
“This year we wanted to give Coach Locksley the opportunity to have it here in College Park,” Baribeau said.
Baribeau has spoken to the team and helped the student athletes deal with the stresses of the pandemic. Her and Locksley’s message of prioritizing mental health has resonated with the players.
“It’s kind of a cliche cause it’s said a lot, that it’s ok to not be ok,” junior punter Anthony Pecorella said. “But it really is a powerful statement because especially being a male student athlete, there isn’t too many people that come out and say that they’re having struggles when there is a lot.”
Baribeau says the chair will be at a Maryland field hockey game Thursday night and at the football game on Friday. Baribeau says fans can sit in the chair, take a picture in it and post it social media and tag or even film a video discussing mental health if they’re feeling up to it.
“If one person in the stadium feels less alone, one person feels less defective, one person feels less unloved, and feels moved because they see a big bad football player or Coach Locksley talk about their mental health,” Baribeau said. “If they feel so moved to ask for help, to take off the mask, to say I’m struggling, I need help, then we have won.”