“The wounds are there, so let them be useful.”
Those are the words of Harry Miller, who medically retired from the Ohio State football program this year for mental health reasons.
Miller’s decision to step away from the game and the manner in which he announced it this spring had an incredible impact on those who heard it, and he’ll never know the entire number of people that he touched.
Though he’d certainly be willing to try.
“I’ve had so many people reach out to me and send me messages,” Miller said in an interview this week with long-time 10TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi. “I’ve had so many people introduce themselves to me on campus. And there’s so many people telling me their names, telling me their stories. And it’s so hard to remember so many names and I wish I could remember a million names. And I just wish I could talk to every single person and hear every person’s story.”
Tiberi sat down with both Miller and Ohio State head coach Ryan Day for an interview that stretches near 30 minutes. The full video is below and every minute of it is worth watching as Miller updates his situation and talks about the difficulties he has gone through that got him to where he is today.
“I was just reading The Aeneid this past week, and I’m halfway through it, and there was a line from it — and this was written thousands of years ago — and it said, ‘It is in my suffering that I’ve learned to help others who suffer.’ Or something like that. And I thought it was a beautiful line,” Miller said. “And I just think how grateful I am that oftentimes sadness is not without fruit. It’s probably the most fruitful thing we experience because it equips us so greatly to help others. And so that’s why I’m grateful now to have experienced what I’ve experienced because it’s equipped me with the words and the understanding of the sentiments when people say, ‘I felt that way too.’”
Long before Harry Miller’s story was told, Ohio State’s football department had facilities and people and programs in place to help with a student-athlete’s mental health. Head coach Ryan Day and his wife Nina have championed mental health in young people for years now and have worked to erase the stigma that comes with mental health battles.
As Day explained to Tiberi, however, having practices in place to help people is one thing, but it requires strength and courage from the person who is suffering to make the decision to ask for help.
“Well, that’s it. Yeah. That’s it,” Day said of Miller’s bravery to ask for help. “And I think that’s where when you look at a lot of these young people that we’re losing, they don’t reach out in those moments. And so, to try to say, ‘It’s okay what you’re feeling,’ that there is help out there. This is a great example of that. And so now Harry’s almost repurposed his life to help people in that way, to say it’s okay to ask for help in those moments. I know people have come up to me and just told me unbelievable stories because of what Harry’s done already. And I’m sure the same thing has happened to Harry. They come out and they want to tell their story. They want to share it with everybody. And to me that’s more than half the battle, is just starting that initial conversation, saying, ‘I need some help here.'”
Miller’s story is now well known, as he walked into Day’s office one day last year and told his coach his intention to harm himself. Miller was asking for help and he received it from a number of people at Ohio State, including Candice Williams, who is one of the full-time mental health counselors the Buckeyes have on staff.
“I’m very grateful,” Miller told Tiberi. “I remember when we met here with Candice and Dr. Norman, who is my psychiatrist. My mom drove up, and I know how easy it would have been for this not to have been the case. I’ve seen many days recently that I wasn’t preparing to see. I had my 21st birthday. And my friends were there. And I wasn’t expecting that months ago. But I was there for it, and so I’m very grateful.”
Despite Day trying to make things easier for players to come forward, it is still be very difficult to ask for help. Miller characterized the thoughts of self-harm as “the world’s greatest salesman” and asked “how do you outpitch the world’s greatest salesman?”
“It’s a hard, really hard battle,” Miller explained. “And again, you see it with student athletes everywhere right now, and people everywhere. And I’m just grateful that in my case there were people here who wanted to help, because it’s not the case everywhere. And even where that is the case, it doesn’t work out sometimes.”
For student athletes, there is another addition to the anxiety or pressure they feel in the sports that they play. We all have our own pressures that feel like the weight of the world, but how many of us have our performances broadcast for all to see and then receive feedback via social media that we never, ever asked for?
Not to mention that athletes are not supposed to be affected by such things. Be it physical, emotional, or mental pain, so often they are told to “suck it up.”
“I don’t think that was said to me, but it’s inescapable,” Miller said. “Which is sort of bewildering to me. Because again, I keep reading, I love to read and you read about great protagonists, and, for example, I’m a guy, so I really look up to great male protagonists, and so, say, Tom Joad from Grapes of Wrath, or Aeneas from The Aeneid, which I’m reading right now, and some of the best men in history or literature or wherever, are some of the most compassionate and kindest men and display massive emotional intellect. I don’t know, it’s strange that we’ve found ourselves in a position to admire sequestered emotions.”
If you’re not nodding at this point, you might be missing the point.
“I want somebody who is kind and compassionate and sincere,” Miller explained. “I think those are the best qualities of men and of people in general. I just think if we can appreciate that, which are oftentimes very hidden, very humble aspects of people, if we praise those things instead of these stats, or things that seem so unachievable, or things that seem so easy to lose, it would ground ourselves in something that felt much safer and much easier to keep on the day to day. And that’s what I’ve tried to display for my friends in the locker room. We’ve got a great locker room of guys who are fantastic. And those are guys that when my mother is sick, they call me and ask how I’m doing. There’ll be guys in there who will be in my wedding and be a godfather to my children. And those are special guys and they’re everywhere. And I think those are the best qualities of toughness or of being a man, it’s being kind when everything suggests you shouldn’t be.”
When the Ohio State football team arrived at Ohio Stadium for their annual spring game last month, Miller was on the bus with the rest of the team. Even though his playing days are over, he still has way more that he wants give to his team. And Ryan Day is more than happy to have him around.
“I just go back to Harry’s done the work, but he doesn’t owe it to anybody to tell his story,” Day said. “This is his story. And a lot of those things are private to him that he’s really gone out there, and that’s courage. And that’s the kind of people you want in your building every day. And that’s a guy that we started the recruiting process with and he’s gonna be here until he graduates because, first off, the guys in that locker room care a lot about him. And, again, I just go back to when you look at what he’s done and the courage he has, he doesn’t have to tell the story. He doesn’t have to put this all out there, but he’s doing it. Why? To help other people. And that makes our locker room stronger. And so there’s guys who have turned to him. I’ve had two guys in my office who have said, ‘you mind if I give Harry a call and talk about this?’ They go to him for counsel because they see the strength in that. So that just makes our team better.”
Miller knows how much he was helped by others and helping others has now become another mission for him.
“Yeah, I think in many respects it is,” Miller said. “Talking about how I don’t have to share it and that’s sort of what I said weeks ago, is that nobody has to say anything. That’s precisely why somebody has to say something, because we can continue to not say anything, just as we have been doing for a long time. And we can continue to have young people die, if that’s what we want to happen. And sometimes it is difficult for me because to talk about these wounds, sometimes I have to reopen them, which is a painful process. But regardless, the wounds are there, so let them be useful. I’m grateful to have found myself in this position.”
Again, the entire interview is worth watching and it is full of insight from both Miller and Day. Towards the end of the interview, Miller shared some words of encouragement from his own experiences for those who are struggling.
“I would say to those people that all these things that you think you’re locked into and all these relationships that you think are so conditional, I was so graciously surprised by how the people who loved me loved me still, regardless. And all the things that I thought were a game of life and death were so trivial. And in the presence of people who care about you, did not matter at all. That would be my advice. All these people who feel this way, don’t know what to say, don’t know how to get out of it, is that if you just speak with the people who care about you, you’d be surprised how much grace people would offer you.”
[Header photo courtesy of 10TV.]
If you are having your own battles, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.