In conversation with Cavan Biggio

Getting to know one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ most underlooked prospects

In conversation with Cavan Biggio

Blue Jays fans know that a team rebuild is well underway in Toronto. Since their last playoff appearance in 2016, the Blue Jays front office has produced one of baseball’s top farm systemsa collection of minor league teams which are responsible for developing promising young players. From Class-A affiliate Lansing Lugnuts to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons, Toronto is stacked with talented prospects. Even casual fans may be aware of the MLB’s first-ranked prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and tenth-ranked Bo Bichette. However, even some Blue Jays loyalists haven’t heard of the Jays’ hidden weapon: Cavan Biggio.

These three infielders are part of the core group of prospects projected to make their debuts in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. However, though Toronto media has shined the spotlight on Guerrero Jr. and, in part, Bichette, less attention has been given to Biggio.

The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Biggio in 2016 from the University of Notre Dame. Coming from a baseball family, Biggio learned the game from his father, Hall-of-Famer second baseman Craig Biggio. After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons in Class-A and Class-A Advanced, in 2018 Biggio moved to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate. There, he began demonstrating his leadoff potential. While he only had a .252 batting average, Biggio got on base at a rate of .388, making him third in the Eastern League and first on the team based on his on-base percentage.

After the regular season, Biggio took part in the Arizona Fall League, an off-season development league. In an interview with The Varsity, Biggio said, “Fall League was incredible. [I] played with a lot of great players… guys that I’ve been playing against for the past two, three years.” He added, “I was able to play the outfield there and be able to get some good work out there and set myself up for the season. So overall, I think [it] couldn’t really be better.”

It’s clear that Biggio got some great work in during the off-season. 28 games into the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ season, he’s already off to a blistering hot start. As of May 5, Biggio is first on the Bisons in home runs and runs scored, second in on-base percentage and runs batted in, third in batting average, and fourth in slugging.

When asked what he credits his early season success to, Biggio simply replied, “I would credit that to just trying to use the whole field a little more.”

He noted that last year he was “a little bit… pull-happy in Double-A,” and so going into this off-season he relied on the full field to put the ball into play. He says that that is “where you see the two strikes and trying to battle and put the ball in play, versus trying to get the head still and striking out more when I was in Double-A.”

Biggio also focused on developing his fielding during the off-season. He said, “I worked on it a lot… in spring training… I take a lot of pride in my defense, trying to separate offense from defense as best as I can.”

He added that he also tried to smooth his footwork out because he saw it is very important, “especially playing second, third, and first: they’re very different. And I think just being able to get some reps at all three of those positions.”

In the early going, the off-season work has been paying off, as Biggio has only committed one error the entire season. Biggio has always been a phenomenal fielder but has seen drastic improvements in the last year, committing just one error in the Arizona Fall League’s innings and 14 errors in Double-AA’s innings.

Once Biggio breaks into the big leagues, he might be something that the Toronto Blue Jays have recently been lacking — a true leadoff hitter. As mentioned, Biggio is in the top three of the Buffalo Bisons in batting average and on-base percentage at .341 and .478, respectively, as of May 5. While those numbers are sure to regress, it doesn’t change the fact that Biggio has consistently been able to get on base throughout his career. But what makes him an important component and a future weapon of the Blue Jays are his baserunning abilities.

“I think it’s very important to my game just because I walk a good bit and I don’t think I’m really any good when I’m walking a lot… I think I can score on a double in the gap, but to make things easier… I [like] to pick my spots to be able to get in scoring position for my teammates to drive me in.”

He added that he thinks it is very important to be able to steal a run early in the game. “I see it dying out in baseball, but I’m trying to be consistent with it in my game and just trying to pick my spots when I can go.” In the early going, Biggio has the second most stolen bases on the team, tied with Jonathan Davis.

With his power, contact, and speed, Blue Jays fans should expect to see Biggio leading off in big league games soon. He has the toolset to be part of the rare 30-30 club — 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases — a feat that only 40 players in history have accomplished.

While the limelight is on Guerrero Jr.’s call-up and Bichette’s broken hand, Biggio is quietly developing into a five-tool player that can challenge the likes of his teammates and the rest of the MLB. The fifth-ranked second-base prospect in baseball made his Blue Jays debut with the Bisons this season and should be a key piece in many future playoff runs.

Could the Raptors win it big this postseason?

First round will be easy, but good luck against the Bucks and the Warriors

Could the Raptors win it big this postseason?

April marks a bittersweet time for NBA fans at the University of Toronto, as exam season is made slightly less dreadful with the countdown to playoff basketball underway.

With Toronto’s regular season success, Raptors fans are excited for what the postseason may bring. But are fans naïve for thinking that Toronto has any chance of making it to the NBA Finals, or possibly even winning it all?

Looking at potential first-round opponents, there’s little doubt that Toronto wouldn’t be able to easily do away with teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, and the Detroit Pistons in a best-of-seven series with home court advantage.

The real question facing the Raptors is how they will fare against potential second round and Conference Finals matchups with the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Eastern Conference favourites Milwaukee Bucks.

Looking at the Celtics, Boston has struggled since the All-Star break with a record under .500 and a bottom-10 offensive rating during this stretch.

Offensive consistency is where Toronto appears to get the edge in this matchup, as the Raptors currently sit in the top 10 for offensive rating. Also, with Pascal Siakam’s dominant performances against Boston this season, it’s difficult to imagine the Celtics getting past the Raptors in a playoff matchup.

Shifting to the 76ers, the Raptors are one of the few teams in the league who can match up effectively against the Sixers’ starting five, one of the best in the NBA, due to the athleticism that the Raptors also have at all five positions on the floor.

This is what led to Toronto’s success against Philadelphia this season, as the Raptors defeated the Sixers in three of their four regular-season matchups, with Kawhi Leonard sitting out for the Raptors in their only loss.

The Sixers have the star power, but with their poor three-point shooting and defensive liabilities, the odds in this series are in Toronto’s favour.

The Bucks are Toronto’s biggest obstacle to hopes of a conference championship, as Giannis Antetokounmpo is sure to continue his MVP-calibre season through the playoffs. But Toronto does have some advantages over Milwaukee.

With the length and athleticism of Siakam and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have strong defensive options to limit the damage that Antetokounmpo can do on offense. The Bucks have also been hit with the injury bug late in the season, as Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol are all currently nursing injuries.

If the Bucks aren’t able to get healthy down the stretch, and the Raptors are able to limit spacing on defense and make things difficult for Antetokounmpo, Toronto has a strong chance of coming out on top.

Although the Raptors have a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals, envisioning a Raptors championship parade in June is nothing short of farfetched.

The Raptors would be slated to face-off against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in the finals, who are currently the favourites by far to win the NBA Championship.

Despite playing short of their full capabilities in the regular season due to injury concerns, the Warriors currently sit atop of the highly competitive Western Conference and are entering the playoffs with quite possibly the most talent-filled starting lineup in NBA history.

The Warriors are by far the best three-point shooting team in the league and would be sure to terrorize the Raptors’ defense across a seven-game series.

Also, the Warriors have the benefit of championship experience, as they are currently eyeing their third straight NBA title, unlike the Raptors, who have many new players that are still in the process of learning how to mesh together.

All in all, if you’re a Raptors fan who’d be satisfied with a conference championship, the 2018–2019 postseason is likely to be rewarding. But if you were expecting nothing short of a Raptors title banner? Maybe next season.

In Photos: 2019 U of T Kendo Invitational Tournament

The tournament was hosted at the Athletic Centre in March

In Photos: 2019 U of T Kendo Invitational Tournament

 

J. Li, a U of T PhD. student, in a sonkyo squat at the end of a match

 

 

Two members of the Jungko Kendo Club compete in the final round of the bracket for the first half of the day

 

U of T’s Justin Chan and McGill’s Mario Rojas after their match ended

 

Members of the U of T Kendo Club, Justin Chan, Alex Lau, Alice Meng, Jennifer Kim, and Steve Zhou

 

Catching up with Blues two-sport star Emily Principe

Principe plays a key role on Blues fencing and rowing teams

Catching up with Blues two-sport star Emily Principe

A few years after Emily Principe’s parents refused to buy her a horse, she became the youngest épée fencer to win the senior Australian national competition at 17.

Principe’s passion for fencing started with the modern pentathlon, which seemed like a natural direction because it combined her swimming, running, and horseback-riding abilities, while not requiring her to own a horse.

“Modern pentathlon,” she explains, “is one of the oldest Olympic sports and consists of five events: running, shooting, swimming, horse-riding (show jumping) and fencing. Part of the challenge is that competitors are randomly assigned unfamiliar horses to compete on rather than having to bring their own.”

Easier still, the fencing club was only 15 minutes away from her house.

Principe started at a small club called Rozelle Fencers in her native New South Wales, Australia. She describesthe club with fondness and respect. “It was an awesome little community club that was run by a fierce woman, Frances Stone, who was already in her nineties when I met her… The community vibe was a supportive place to start fencing and had many older fencers who were full of wisdom.”

The club’s size, however, meant that it strictly offered foil fencing, and by 2013, Principe was consistently beating all her older club mates. In search of a new challenge, she turned to épée, and Stone encouraged the switch on the condition that Principe would be coached by Simon Jin, who was the head coach at the much bigger University of Technology Sydney fencing club.

Principe’s subsequent successes in épée did not stop her from revisiting Rozelle until the small club closed in 2017.

The importance of support throughout Principe’s career is clear when she recalls her fondest memories of fencing. When asked about the highlights of her career, she responds with, “Winning a senior Australian national competition at the age of 17, making me the youngest épée fencer to ever do so. I was fortunate to have my mother, coach, and teammates at that competition supporting me.”

“The day before had been the Under-23 national event and I had done poorly. Being able to shift my mindset and turn around my fencing to post such a strong performance the following day was very gratifying.” She adds that succeeding with many of the people who supported and contributed to her accomplishments in the stands was a great feeling. 

As for what’s kept her there? “While I don’t consider myself to be at all violent, stabbing someone with a weapon is quite satisfying.”

What distinguishes Principe from many other high-level athletes is that she excels at not one, but two sports. Her motivation to start rowing, unrelated to her parents’ unwillingness to buy a horse, was pursued as a way to make friends after she moved to a new school at the start of seventh grade. Principe recalls, “I was the only new student from my primary school that moved to my new school. I also had not grown up in the area and so did not know anyone in my grade. In order to make friends, and fast, I figured that I would join a sports team or two.” Like many other rowers, her height gave her an advantage, and the team environment kept her there.

While her fondest memories of fencing link back to hard-earned victories, her rowing experience is more about people than it is about trophies. Specifically, Principe highlights Barbara Ramjan and Anne Craig, her two old rowing coaches who also coached the para-rowing squad at her club during high school.

“Given the amount of time that Barbara and Anne had put into me, I wanted to give back some of my time to them and so volunteered to help with their para-rowers.” She mentioned that during her volunteering, she rowed with a visually-impaired rower named Sam, who up until then primarily rowed alone, and so was nervous about partnering.

Principe says, “Throughout our session I could see Sam relax and we even managed to strike up a conversation in between pieces. Once we were off the water, Sam thanked me for my time and said that it had been the best on-water experience that he had ever had.’” That experience has been impactful, since she was able to give back to her rowing community.

It may seem odd that her fondest memory of rowing, a sport frequently associated with a degree of mechanic monotony, is shaped so strongly by the connection between people. Principe enjoys the objectivity of rowing, but she also notes that the best indoor rowing times and wins “tend to blend together into being good seasons or fast crews.”

In fact, the importance of the people who surround her is the most consistent theme raised. Regarding her successes in individual épée, she explains that “given fencing is an open-skill sport, much of my training is done directly against other athletes. Accordingly, I feel that my teammates contribute significantly to my individual success.”

What led her to successes like the Ontario University Athletics gold medal for individual épée, a silver in the épée team event, and the consistent strong performances in rowing?

“I have been lucky to have some particularly knowledgeable and supportive coaches that have been instrumental in helping me to better myself both as an athlete but also as a person. My teammates not only help me to train but also are a source of motivation, accountability and support.”

Her parents, her teammates, Stone and Jin, Ramjan and Craig, Sam: these are only a few of the people she singles out when she discusses her performances in two sports that are more individual than they are team-based. The importance of these people lies beyond her athletic achievements — they did not just shape her as an athlete, but as a person.

Her hard work is clear in her preparations for competitions, both rowing and fencing. As a rower, she reviews her race plan meticulously “to know exactly where I am going to be pushing and what sort of pace I am looking to maintain.” For fencing, she keeps a notebook in which she writes down all of her competitors’ names, their go-to offensive and defensive manoeuvres, and what she can do to combat these moves. She exhibits a studious ruthlessness that can only truly be associated with competition.

Although competing in two varsity sports can be taxing both mentally and physically, Principe does not struggle with identifying both as a rower and a fencer. Instead, the differences in the two sports appear to complement each other to provide both excitement and a team environment.

On the differences, Principe explains, “I really love the team aspect of rowing and the objectivity of it. Ultimately, if you’re willing to put in the work then the results will come. As well, the feeling when a crew is perfectly in sync and the boat starts to hum is wild! It feels like what I imagine flying to be like. Fencing, on the other hand, is more enjoyable to train for, as the training tends to change session to session.”

As Principe’s season draws to a close, she is already looking toward next season’s goals. One source of her inspiration: “I think that my parents always taught me not to stop until I am satisfied, or I simply cannot go further.” Based on her relentless athleticism, hard work, and dedication, it seems Principe has not yet reached this point.

The power of sport: how Mahal De La Durantaye’s passion created a movement

Graduating Blues basketball guard reflects on her career and bond with her sister

The power of sport: how Mahal De La Durantaye’s passion created a movement

‘Mahal’ is the Tagalog word for ‘love.’ It is also the first name of Varsity Blues women’s basketball player Mahal De La Durantaye, and it could not be more fitting.

De La Durantaye has been a fixture with the women’s basketball program for the past four years, recently wrapping up her last season in blue and white. The journey of the 22-year-old guard, a Neuroscience and Global Health double major, stands in stark contrast to that of a run-of-the-mill U of T student athlete.

Part of what makes her unique is her heartfelt passion and purpose. Beyond her strength as a competitor and love of all things hoops — which often has her wreaking havoc while guarding the other team’s best players — her extensive dedication to grassroots organizations and their initiatives, and her bond with her sister Destiny, Mahal’s heart sets her apart from her fellow peers.

Brave beginnings

On any given weekday afternoon, one can typically find Mahal’s familiar face perched on the rafters of the Kimel Family Field House at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Her usual attire? Hoodie, sweats, and a messy bun. Typical student athlete behaviour for a not-so-typical student athlete.

She grew up in a mixed French-Canadian and British household of four, raised by parents Sherri Jones and Robert De La Durantaye along with her younger sister Destiny, who is two years her junior.

Adopted at the age of five, she moved a total of seven times during her upbringing, attending 13 different schools along the way — mostly before she reached fourth grade.

It was a situation that could have made it easy for Mahal and her sister to grow up lacking a real sense of community or lasting opportunity. However, Mahal’s parents — especially her mother, who she cites as her role model — were determined to ensure that their two girls had the chance to pursue their dreams no matter what.

Her parents’ “open-mindedness” and the “language” they used to discuss her identity — including Mahal’s “adoption… ethnicity… [her] history [and her] family” — clearly affected how Mahal internalized her understanding of empowerment from an early age.

From the little things — like her father, a former MTV employee, playing “culturally appropriate music,” or her mom ensuring she had the right care products for her hair — to more prominent incidents, such as her mom fighting for her to be able to participate in a Filipino basketball tournament that she had been denied entry to due to being mixed race, Mahal felt a sense of pride in her ancestral identity growing up.

Mahal shares a particularly close bond with her sister, Destiny, who is now 19.

“My younger sister Destiny grew up with a learning difference, so I’ve always been protective of her. I didn’t want anyone picking on her at school.” Inspired by Destiny’s courage and will to overcome adversity, Mahal picked her neuroscience major partially to honour her bond with her sister.

Her first encounter with basketball came in the fourth grade.

She began to pursue the game more intensely during the onset of her high school days, but she never missed an opportunity to provide mentorship to others through her school.

In grade 10, she began her own basketball mentorship program for younger girls at The Linden School, the majority of whom were in the fourth grade. In her senior year, she had the chance to travel to Havana for a cultural and sports exchange.

She found herself impressed by the skill level of the Cuban athletes as well as Havana’s cultural and historical significance. More importantly, it was a profound moment where “despite the language barrier, it was amazing how we all still got to bond through sport.”

Student of the world

Coming into university, Mahal relied on basketball to ground her as she adjusted to the new pace of her daily life. “I definitely needed it for structure… I just needed it. It was a good transition, coming into university,” she reflected.

Following a productive first year in which she averaged around 19 minutes per game, Mahal found herself in unfamiliar territory when she suffered a season-ending ACL tear just days away from the start of her sophomore campaign.

“[It] was the hardest thing ever… Bouncing back and having people doubt you… that was just a whole other struggle that I had to overcome.”

And while it gave her a “new perspective” on the game, she also admits that the injury continued to pose a hurdle to her game in the years to come. “Even by my fourth year, I still hadn’t come back to me fully.”

Undeterred by adversity, Mahal found meaningful ways to cement a legacy as a leader. This past season — her fourth with the program, and third of eligibility — she was second on the team in steals, and registered 13 starts. She recorded a career best in total minutes played during the season, and was one of only four players to see action in all 23 of the team’s regular season games. She was counted on for leadership, energy, hustle, and a rebounding presence, and was often in the thick of things during game-changing momentum shifts.

Off the court, however, Mahal’s exhaustive dedication to campus and community life during her four years thus far at U of T has been nothing short of remarkable.

On top of the rigorous schedule that student athlete status demands, Mahal has also involved herself in nearly too many initiatives to count: she’s done educational outreach programs for elementary-aged children, like Blues Buddy Up and Brain Waves; she’s been a program coordinator for the Canadian Sport Film Festival; and she has volunteered with the Brampton Northwest Connects Special game.

She currently mentors youth as a development coach with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, part of the Toronto Raptors organization, and is a three-year member and current co-president of U of T’s varsity board, which advocates for student athletes.

She’s also currently working on developing an outreach program through the varsity board with the YMCA, which would set up sports skills clinics for underprivileged youth.

Amazingly, on top of all of this, she has also found time somewhere in there to fit in her job as a referee for U of T’s intramurals.

Her incredible commitment to impactful, positive change is punctuated by one experience in particular. Last year, for the month of May, Mahal traveled to Middelpos Farm in Western Cape, South Africa, where she worked with Inspire Children & Youth, a local grassroots non-profit whose mission is to diminish rural poverty.

After weeks of planning — and packing “two extra suitcases” — Mahal found herself immersed in the organization’s day-to-day operations as a program facilitator and assistant youth worker. She was a key cog in implementing positive, permanent changes, such as a “brain-shaped food garden.” She also single-handedly built a multi-purpose athletic court from the ground up to provide opportunities for the kids to play organized sport.

It was a life-changing experience, to say the least. It solidified Mahal’s belief in the power of sport to impact lives and create change, and gave her a unique opportunity to apply her academic knowledge of neuroscience to a real-life situation.

The next chapter

Mahal’s playing days in blue and white may be over, but she’s only just beginning the next exciting chapter of her life.

Building on her extensive service work and social action, Mahal recently started her Power of Sport initiative. Her Instagram portfolio, @thepowerofsport_, was created out of a desire to build an accessible platform that would showcase herself, her experience, and her vision, while simultaneously acting as a point of connection and a conversation starter among other non-profit organizations and initiatives.

Captain and fellow graduating player Keyira Parkes, who has known Mahal for about 12 years, described her as a “superhuman” who is a “passionate and considerate leader” with immense insight. “She has a huge heart and always finds way to help people or better a community just because. That is what is unique about her… She has really been an inspiration to me.”

Mahal’s passion for travel has taken her to Italy, the Philippines, Uganda, and South Africa, among other countries. Her love of neuroscience and youth empowerment have immersed her in countless community-led opportunities. And above all, her vision and belief in “the power of sport” are a beautiful combination of all three.

After all, it is a dream rooted in so many affirming instances of reality. From her formative years, in which basketball was a force that brought her family closer together and bridged a language and cultural gap, to her more recent experiences — such as the permanent changes she implemented in a rural community on the other side of the world — her experiences truly embody the amazing “power of sport.”

Mahal’s successes are a direct result of years of blood, sweat, and tears poured into her greatest passions. Nothing has been an accident: her given name, Mahal, was chosen strategically by her birth mother to ensure that she wouldn’t “forget that she loved [Mahal], no matter where she went.”

Similarly, her middle name, Namuimbwa, was selected specifically as a means of maintaining a strong, unbreakable connection to her Ugandan roots, to make sure that “no one would forget” and that she would never be separated from her ancestral line.

It was only fitting that a young woman whose names represent love and strength embodies those two qualities to a premium.

Two extraordinary names for an extraordinary person. The basketball gods could not have predicted it any better.

Why mental health should be discussed more often in locker rooms

A Blues rugby player shares his experience dealing with mental health

Why mental health should be discussed more often in locker rooms

My name is Liam Sweeney and I play for the Varsity Blues men’s rugby team. In light of recent organizing around mental health issues at the university, I wanted to join the ongoing conversation and share my point of view on this sensitive topic. 

As a student athlete, you are portrayed as the very best­ — the cream of the crop ­— both academically and physically, especially at U of T. This school is known for its gruelling academics and ‘sink or swim’ attitude when it comes to surviving the gauntlet. The academics alone at this university could push someone to the brink of insanity, and if you add a rigorous and demanding sports team to it, it could very well break them. 

However, many student athletes choose to remain silent about their mental well-being, instead opting to either deal with it personally or not deal with it at all. To my detriment, I dealt with my mental health on my own. I know many other student athletes who also tried to overcome their struggles on their own, remaining silent to their coaches and teammates.Silence is one of the worst things for one’s mental well-being, but we didn’t want to acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, silence on this topic happens too often. When I had trouble with my mental well-being, I put a brave face on. Around my teammates, I was always happy and I joked around with them, even though, in truth, I was in a very dark place. It was my first year at university, my first time away from my home in New York City, and my first time being truly under a monumental amount of stress. 

My answer to this stress was to become a hermit. I locked myself in my dorm. Some days I wouldn’t leave, wouldn’t shower, wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t even show up to my lectures or tutorials. Practices and lifts were missed for weeks on end and I did the bare minimum to not get cut from the team or get placed on academic probation. I didn’t let my coaches or my closest friends know about my situation because I didn’t want to be thought of as weak, and I was ashamed that I couldn’t deal with what U of T was throwing at me. 

As a rugby man, I’m supposed to be strong-willed, with a ‘put up or shut up’ mentality. I’m supposed to be rough and tough and not take crap from anyone. Admitting my mental health problems to my teammates would have destroyed the facade that I was trying so hard to maintain. But this image of always being strong and healthy plagues varsity teams. Student athletes won’t get help because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. This machismo culture surrounding most sports is the reason why you don’t hear many student athletes speaking up or seeking help for their mental health. 

In a society where being the best of the best physically and academically is heavily emphasized, more often than not mental health takes a back seat. This was also the case for the captain of our team, who struggled with anxiety and depression. These afflictions are often not visible. Our captain always looked happy; I look up to him as not only an exemplary rugby player but also a role model on how to treat people with kindness and respect. But under this image of excellence are illnesses waiting in silence. He too, remained quiet for a very long time about his mental health issues. 

When I asked him how he coped with his depression and anxiety, our captain explained that he “didn’t want to be perceived as weak.” 

“I believed that my issues with anxiety and depression [were things] that I shouldn’t feel and that I was causing myself to feel those ways and should have been able to just snap out of it,” he added.

“This definitely wasn’t the best method as I turned to marijuana to be that support for me when I needed to go get my thoughts out of my own head, which would also cause me to miss team sessions and events regularly.” 

Another team leader, who chose to remain anonymous, had a similar story. Although he never considered himself depressed, he did admit that in his second year at university, various issues came up that seriously affected his mental health. He lost the team a game, having missed four crucial kicks to put them ahead, he went through a break up, and his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

He told me, “I never felt bad for myself, but I lost interest in things, to the point that I lost motivation for everything. I gradually stopped going to lifts, practices and even classes. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to on the team… who I can really open up to.”

The idea of not having anyone to talk to isn’t specific to rugby players. However, when taking into consideration rugby’s unique attitude toward one’s duty, which pushes its players to keep on going, not show pain, just deal with it quietly, and not ‘whine’ or ‘complain’ to anyone, it can be easy to see why many athletes don’t open up to their fellow teammates.

The first thing you should do if you’re going through a rough patch is allow your teammates to know how you’re doing and what you’re dealing with. 

It took Martin a year to reach out to the team for help, but it took a huge weight off his back.

“After a year of recognizing what was going on with myself I began to open up to some of [my] teammates about what I was going through. I found this to be helpful, as on days where I was less inclined to be at a workout or practice, I was comforted to know that if I didn’t seem normal these boys would understand why and not treat me differently because of that.” Emphasizing his anxiety and mood would only make things worse. 

He added that “as I continue to be a part of the team and become more comfortable with opening up to others myself, I try and be as open and honest with all my teammates about my plights with these mental health issues.” 

Every student-athlete needs to recognize that they are part of a team. It takes a lot of honesty and bravery to admit it when you are down. It is not in any athlete’s mindset to admit defeat, since they wouldn’t be able to perform at the level they are performing at if they just rolled over. But you must also realize that it is impossible to succeed with such a heavy burden weighing you down.

Many changes still need to be made on both administrative and personal levels on the topic of mental health. Talking about it is a good first step. The stigma of being perceived as weak or broken can only be shattered if more people open up about their struggles with mental health. Talking about your mental health doesn’t have to be with your teammates or your coaches. It could be your friends or your family — as long as you talk to someone. What is most important is to remember that it’s okay to not be okay.

What sports journalism really means to athletes

Chronicling the often adversarial relationship between athletes and the media

What sports journalism really means to athletes

While the relationship between the media and athletes can be a mutually beneficial one, in which the media sells headlines and the players receive a platform and personal branding, it can also be incredibly strained and turbulent.  

For instance, the relationship between the media and the England national football team has been crumbling for years. After an early exit from the Euro 2016, England’s soccer culture appeared to be in crisis. Instead of celebrating the team as representative of English national identity, diversity, and values, the media singled out players and the manager as scapegoats for England’s lacklustre performance. Players like Adam Lallana, Dele Alli, Frank Lampard, and Kyle Walker have claimed that the media was partially at fault for the low morale in the squad and among the fans. According to the players, the overwhelming negativity from the media interferes with the team’s mindset and instills a fear of backlash from having a bad game.  

Fans voiced their agreement when they accused the media of continuously harming the team’s chances to perform at their highest level. Among the criticisms were claims that the media tries to “get them when they’re at their weakest… where the public can resonate with it and point fingers.” Many went on to say that the media hypes the team up just to knock them back down once results stop coming in. 

The overly critical nature of sports journalism is not the only issue: athletes often lose patience with what they perceive to be redundant or excessively pointed questions in post-match interviews and press conferences, leading to dramatic walkouts and frustrated outbursts. 

At the 2018 NBA Finals, LeBron James walked out of a post-game press conference after being asked about JR Smith’s notorious blunder running the clock of a tied Game 1, which the Cleveland Cavaliers would eventually lose to the Golden State Warriors in overtime. Current Juventus and then-Real Madrid soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo similarly walked out from a post-game conference in 2016 when he was asked about his away-goal drought despite his team’s winning streak. 

The pressure placed on athletes by the media can harm both their professional performances and their mental health. After victory, athletes are portrayed as heroes; losses are frequently accompanied by criticism and judgment. In response to fears that negative media backlash could distract athletes, official committees such as the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Japanese Skating Federation have organized media training sections and sent formal requests to newspapers respectively. After the 2004 Athens Olympics, Chinese diver Peng Bo reminded audiences, “We’re ordinary people. We feel pressure, and sometimes we can’t help having distracting thoughts. Please understand us.” 

Sports media coverage becomes even more troubling for athletes when it involves baseless claims and rumours about their private lives. Responding to newspapers’ suggestions of affairs with his teammates’ wives, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said, “When people delve into your personal life and make up rumours and things that are completely false and untrue, it takes a toll on you.” On the subject, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey explained, “Just because you can write something doesn’t mean you should.”

Players have also been quick to call out biases in media coverage. For example, Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling has criticized the racist undertones of soccer coverage in a recent Instagram post. Sterling, who is a frequent victim of racial abuse from soccer fans, compared the media’s treatment of teammates 21-year-old Black Tosin Adarabioyo and 18-year-old white Phil Foden. Sterling juxtaposed two Daily Mail headlines, with one remarking on Adarabioyo “splash[ing] out” on a mansion for his mother “despite having never started a Premier League match” and the other reporting on “starlet” Foden “buy[ing] [a] new £2m home for his mum.” Through their tone and word choice regarding lifestyle choices and form, the media “helps fuel racism [and] aggressive behaviour,” Sterling claimed. 

Sports journalism has the power to connect athletes and fans, analyze games and plays, and celebrate the sport. This capacity, however, is only truly fulfilled when the media holds itself to a high standard with dignity and respect for both athletes and themselves. 

My career-ending injury

How I — sort of — cope with being forced to quit the sport I love

My career-ending injury

Think of your favourite thing, the thing that you love most in the world, that you look forward to every day, and that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Now, think of what would happen if you were told that you could never do that thing again. Ever. How would you feel? 

I used to be a varsity athlete — I’m still getting used to saying that. 

I was a fourth-year field hockey player and captain of the Varsity Blues field hockey team. I was also a member of the Canadian National Indoor Field Hockey Team. Everything I did in my life revolved around field hockey: when I slept, what I ate, when I studied, and who I spent my time with. All of that changed, though, following a 2018 preseason match, when an elbow smacked my skull and I suffered my fourth concussion. 

Nobody thought it was serious. My prognosis was that I’d be back on the field in a month or less. However, dark-room recovery days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Before I knew it, the 2018 field hockey season had ended without me ever stepping on the field and a month later, I had finished my fall semester the same way I had started it — with a headache. This concussion was serious.

I had spent the fall contemplating my future with field hockey. I always figured that I’d recover, even if it wasn’t as quickly as I wanted, and eventually return to play. My plan was shattered during a routine doctor’s appointment this January. I sat frozen as my doctor repeated, “You can’t play field hockey anymore.” 

I don’t remember much about that appointment or the days that followed. I was numb. Conflicting emotions of relief and misery clouded my consciousness. I felt free without the burden of field hockey but I was also gutted because my life as an athlete — the primary way in which I had defined myself since I started playing competitive ice hockey in third grade — was over. 

My life was irreversibly changed, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. At first, I didn’t tell anyone the doctor’s verdict — not even my parents. Whenever I ran into someone I knew, I would pretend that everything was fine and that I’d be back to field hockey soon.

Then I got anxious. I had to tell my coaches, my teammates, then eventually, everyone who knew me as ‘Julia, the field hockey player’ that I couldn’t play anymore. Informing my team was the hardest. I knew the concussion wasn’t my fault and that I couldn’t do anything to change my situation, but something about writing my retirement email made me feel selfish. Was I letting my team down?

After quitting the team, I completely removed myself from all things field hockey. My wound was too fresh and I knew that any reference to field hockey would send tears streaming down my cheeks. During those weeks, I felt the void that field hockey left behind — I had free time and no way to fill it. Sometimes I’d break down. One night I dreamt that I was sprinting down the field, and when I startled awake in the middle of the night, I realized that my dream was as close as I’d get to the real thing ever again. Another night, I found myself deep down an internet rabbit hole of concussion horror stories and I panicked thinking that my symptoms might be permanent. I cried myself to sleep. 

It’s been three months since I was told that I’d never play field hockey again and I still struggle to navigate the awkward in-between condition of remaining an athlete on the inside while adopting the lifestyle of a non-athlete. Sometimes, talking about field hockey is too hard, but that doesn’t mean I never want to talk about it. 

As I write this, half my team crowds my living room. I chatted with them for a while, but they’re preparing for an upcoming tournament and since I’m not on the team anymore, I feel uncomfortable participating. There’s no handbook on how to do this. All I can do is what feels best each day. Sometimes that means being around field hockey, but sometimes it means pretending I never played at all. 

More than anything, this experience has been extremely isolating. My team, my community, and my home were ripped away from me in what felt like an instant. I was alone. 

I know that other athletes go through this, but I don’t know any personally. I couldn’t shake the feeling that nobody understood what I was going through. Everyone reassured me that I was doing the right thing — easy for them to say — but I struggled to believe them. How could quitting field hockey possibly be the best thing for me?

I think it’s the “never” part of the doctor’s verdict that frustrates me most. I have more free time than I’ve ever had, but I’d give it all up to play in one more game, one more practice, or even one more drill. I spend a lot of time scrutinizing the decisions I made throughout my injury, torturing myself over the ‘what-ifs’ and trying to come up with a scenario where this all didn’t happen. I wonder about what the rest of my field hockey career would have looked like, but since everything I had hoped to achieve is now certifiably impossible, I often feel like my inability to achieve my goals diminishes the success I did have throughout my athletic career. It makes no sense, but sometimes, that’s just how I feel. 

Having said all this, I still struggle with concussion symptoms every day. Even though it feels like the end of the world now, I know picking my stick back up would mean risking lifelong damage. That doesn’t make it any easier. I have no future plans to play and maybe that’s a good thing. 

Before my injury, I had planned to play my fifth season for the Varsity Blues and then continue to train with the Canadian Indoor National Team to qualify for the next FIH World Cup. All I know now is that I have to return to school to complete my undergrad next fall. Maybe by then, I’ll figure something out, or not. We’ll see. 

My field hockey career may be over, but the rest of my life is just getting started.