Why We Chose Cailin Bracken as the December 2022 Cover Star

PHOTO BY KARLEE SELL

Cailin Bracken's "A Letter to College Sports" kickstarted important conversations about the mental health of student-athletes.


This article appears in the December edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

The 9-year-old boy trudged across the field to the sideline where I had just unfolded our portable bench. With sunken eyes and droopy shoulders, he plopped down on the last seat as the fabric stretched under his weight.

“What’s up buddy?” I asked.

He sighed.

“My heart is tired. It’s a big game, and I know the team is counting on me.”

In that moment, I could not help but think of Cailin Bracken, the Vanderbilt women’s lacrosse player whose article, “A Letter to College Sports,” sparked a national conversation about the pressure college athletes face and the systemic failure to support their mental health needs.

It was by far the most viral, most read article we shared this year. That should tell you how many people connected with Bracken’s powerful prose and why we chose her for the cover of this Best of Lacrosse 2022 edition.







And while Bracken addressed her letter to college sports, she might as well have CC’d youth and high school sports.

I have a son in fourth grade — a critical time, I’m learning, in a student’s academic journey. The grades count. No more CD (consistently demonstrating) or P (progressing) niceties. It’s A’s, B’s and C’s from here on out.

His teachers say homework should not take longer than 40 minutes. Try telling that to the kid who is in tears because he’s going on two hours and still hasn’t figured out how to complete the (not really) optional challenge question at the end of an advanced math assignment, let alone reformatted his science summary using the claim-evidence-reasoning rubric.

Sports should be a release at this age. An opportunity to burn off some steam, play with friends and let the endorphins — those feel-good neurotransmitters — wash away their grade-school angst.

Instead, we’ve traded one pressure cooker for another. We set goals based on standings and assign values to wins and losses. We post on social media about tournament championships, hoping it might keep one of the more expensive clubs from poaching our players. We schedule our children to the max and then question why they can’t find the time to practice violin this week.

My heart hurts for the 9-year-old boy whose heart is tired. Certainly, there’s more to his malaise than just the stress of a big game. But I took the cue to ease up on the tough talk and instead let him know that his team loves him no matter what happens on the field.

Then I found my own son, tied his cleats (again) and told him the same thing. That night, as we settled on the couch to watch an Adam Sandler movie together, I hugged him just a little harder.

Thanks for the inspiration, Cailin.

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