Student athletes, mental well-being discussed during Book Network panel

Former K-State student athlete Kennedy Felice speaks during a K-State Book Network panel on athletics and mental well-being on Nov 14, 2019. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

On Thursday, the K-State Book Network hosted a discussion panel in the K-State Student Union as part of the fall lecture series related to the common read “Darius the Great is Not Okay” by Adib Khorram.

The panel focused on the relationship between athletics and well-being.

The featured panel members were Dr. Kyle Goerl, a physician with Lafene Health Center; Kennedy Felice, a graduate assistant in kinesiology; Dr. Annie Weese, K-State Athletics director of sports psychology; and Brianna Presutti, professional counselor with Counseling Services.

“Obviously, the theme through ‘Darius the Great is Not Okay’ … is how well-being and mental health play a role in our lives, and one of the things that plays a central role in the book was his participation in athletics,” Goerl said. “I thought that the author did a nice job weaving into the book how athletics can play a role in well-being.”

Well-being, Goerl said, is a relatively new term in the medical world, and therefore has a loose definition.

“Well-being, I think, involves many different aspects of functioning, whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual … I think that having overall well-being means having resilience in all of those aspects,” Persutti said.

“I think that athletics are an absolutely incredible opportunity,” Felice said. “There’s a lot of really great things that come from being an athlete, especially at the collegiate level. You have such a great support system. The negative aspect comes when you’re so wrapped up in being an athlete.”

Felice is a former member of the K-State rowing team.

While the panel agreed that athletic programs are generally progressing, they also expressed concerns with the current system.

“Especially with college athletics, we’re not doing a good enough job with financial literacy,” Weese said. “We’re trying, but I think from the outside world it looks like athletes are just getting everything. But, I don’t think, when they leave us, that they have a good grasp of finances.”

“I am living that transition right now, and it’s a hard transition, let me tell you,” Felice said. “I think for me, looking back, I had a great support network throughout, but I wish that people had more conversations about what was next for me a little bit sooner.”

The panel continued by discussing possible solutions.

“I think that … we can really benefit these young men and women by allowing them opportunities to fail, and to allow them to problem solve their way out of that failure; to accept responsibility for maybe what created that experience for them; and to allow them to find a way out of that,” Weese said. “I worked with college-aged students, who are athletes and non-athletes … I think we have to shift that power-making, and that power of control, as much as possible.”

“We all hope, at some point in time, that we can assist patients to the point where they’re able to stand on their own two feet, either not needing us anymore or needing us a lot less than they did previously,” Goerl said. “A lot of these things are life-long illnesses like depression, anxiety … those patients that are willing to do the lifestyle things, the lifestyle changes, they tend to do a lot better in the long-term, in my professional experience.”

The panel also touched on healthy male relationships in the athletic world, both in the story and at K-State.

“I do think that’s one of the amazing things about sports, how you can rally around people in their good times, and maybe more importantly, really rally around them in their challenging times,” Goerl said. “I’m proud to be part of a university that’s been really supportive of its people.”