"My name is Ryan Hilinski and this is me. Some reading this may know me as Northwestern football’s latest transfer quarterback, or former University of South Carolina quarterback, but I can assure you, I am so much more than football. I am just like everyone else and I will be the first person to remind you of that. I am not perfect — I go through my own battles — and am looking to make a positive change in this world.
I am the youngest of three brothers, we like to call ourselves the Hilinski trio. With Tyler and Kelly both being five and six years older than me respectively, I always thought that I had to prove to my brothers that I am worthy of their presence. Both Tyler and Kelly progressed through life claiming many records and awards, ultimately leading them to be collegiate quarterbacks. So, naturally, I came out of the womb born to be a quarterback. Sports, in particular, football, are my life. My brothers taught me everything. They taught me how to throw a tight spiral for a touchdown, but more importantly they taught me how to be a good son as well as an outstanding brother. Family was and still is everything to us. My brothers were everything to me.
On January 16, 2018, my older brother Tyler passed away by suicide. Tyler was struggling in silence, and we had no idea. As a football player and a male athlete in general, there is the stigma that you have to be tough, show no emotions — and bottle it all inside so no one can see it.
If a coach saw you and thought you were having problems with your mental health, the fear is that they will not see you as ready to be on the field. This dangerous misconception is where I am trying to make a difference. Following the tragedy our family faced, we didn’t want this to
happen to any other family. We decided to create a non-profit organization called Hilinski’s Hope
to help de-stigmatize mental health. I have always felt that we are people first and foremost and we need to take care of ourselves and each other before we can even think about stepping onto the field.
As an athlete, I believe that we are all more than our sport. If we aren’t living right off the field, we won’t perform to our maximum potential on the field. I believe that we were put on this earth to be social beings. When you talk to someone about your struggles and they talk to you about theirs, you are carrying a cross for one another. Talking about your mental health struggles and leaning on others helps you, because believe it or not, they are going through something as well. Football is a team sport. We are all in it together and the best thing we can do is talk about our struggles and tackle them together.
The idea of social media and having an abundant amount of followers or likes is not real life. Social media displays such as Twitter and Instagram act as highlight reels, showing only the good moments in people’s lives, rather than the bad. I will admit: I have fallen to these ideas, so much so that I have dealt with my own mental health struggles and even sought the help of a sports psychologist. Why am I saying this? Because I want people to realize that NO ONE is perfect, and the more we openly admit we are struggling, the more others will admit they are struggling.
The more we openly talk about struggling, the less stigma there is surrounding the topic and the more we can work together to overcome hardships.
Since coming to Northwestern, Coach Fitzgerald has helped me realize who I want to become both as a football player and a person. I want to be the person that people say cares way more about others than himself. When people look back on my football career, I want them to remember how I created the strongest bonds with my teammates. Oh, and I was good at throwing a football too."