Following Ohio State’s 68-59 win over Indiana on Saturday, Buckeye basketball head coach Chris Holtmann had some thoughts he needed to get off of his chest.
This was the first game for OSU since freshman point guard DJ Carton announced on Thursday that he needed to take some time away from the team to deal with mental health issues that were affecting him. This was also Holtmann’s first opportunity to address the media since Carton’s announcement.
First, Holtmann thanked the overwhelming support from the vast majority fans, but in a sea of encouragement, there is always some negativity that finds its way into a person’s line of sight.
And such was the case for Holtmann.
“Alright, I want to begin here by thanking our fans for their support of DJ in his pursuit of mental health, overall health,” Holtmann said. “The wide, vast majority of our fans I know are so unbelievably supportive of him in that and I want to just thank our fan base for that. For the rare few that tweeted at me, ‘this is somehow a reflection on our program, reflection on me personally.’ Guilty. Guilty. So be it.
“You can take your antiquated thinking somewhere else. There is nothing — nothing — more important in our program than our players’ physical, mental health, and overall growth. Nothing. And that will always be the case. There’s not a game. There’s nothing. And if it’s somehow a reflection, I think we all know that’s wrong.”
It was a small minority of “fans” who responded to Carton and Holtmann negatively, which clearly affected the Buckeye head coach. Rather than make his opening statement entirely about the vocal minority, however, he wanted to make sure the vocal majority knew how much their encouragement was appreciated.
“I really appreciate the overall, overwhelming support for a young man in his pursuit of this and I know he does too,” he said. “Our staff here, our medical staff, this university is comprehensive in its care of our players. Physical and mental. Comprehensive. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think we’re on the cutting edge in a lot of ways in terms of our staffing and our willingness to deal with our players’ issues. And it’s a day and age where we see this more and more, particularly in this age group, and particularly with student athletes.”
The quest for mental health has been around forever, but sometimes the stigma attached to needing that help can keep people from seeking it. People worry about what others will say about them, which is why Holtmann was so angry about the few fans who responded negatively to Carton’s situation.
Holtmann is trying to eliminate that stigma one Buckeye basketball team at a time.
“We talk about it,” he said. “I see a therapist. We talk about it. Probably the reason I see a therapist is because some of you in this room, but I see a therapist. We talk about it. It’s real life stuff. It’s real life stuff. And I think that’s the only way to eliminate any type of stigma. That’s it. That’s it. It’s real life stuff. And we’re about the real-life stuff with our players.”
The fact that the support was overwhelming is proof that most people live in “real-life,” while the others are either ignorant or heartless. And if that segment of the population wants to criticize Holtmann for taking his players’ mental health needs seriously, he has a message for them.
“Listen, criticize our program, me, for whatever X and O you want to,” he said. “You’re entitled to that. I think this is idiotic thinking. Just my opinion. If that’s your thinking, that’s fine. We’re guilty of it. We’re going to support this kid. We believe that’s the best thing to do. It makes me angry.”
But this is also about more than just DJ Carton. This is about the next DJ Carton. The next student-athlete who is dealing with mental health issues. Holtmann doesn’t want people feeling like they can’t seek help because of some antiquated negative connotations that may come from it.
“I can’t be more emphatic about that thinking and how damaging that can be, and damaging to players, damaging to coaches,” he said. “And we’re always going to be about the player. Bottom line, we’re always going to be about the player. So that’s our responsibility.”