Commentary: Compassion, awareness and the power of community shine bright in wake of tragedy at WSU

This was a tragic week; a devastating week with the loss of Cougars quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who took his own life.

I admit I’m wholly unequipped to discuss the topic of suicide. And given that this is a sports show and I never met Tyler nor did I attend Washington State, I acknowledge you might disagree with the appropriateness of the messenger or the venue of this discussion.

But I do so tonight for two reasons:
1. The importance of awareness
2. The power of community

First, awareness. We don’t know the reasons Hilinski took his own life nor is it our place to speculate. But we do know how surprising it was - that even his teammates and family never saw signs that such tragedy could occur. So if this ongoing discussion can spread awareness, provoke more communication and stimulate more programs to prevent suicide and improve mental health, then it’s fully worth taking the time.

If this conversation prevents another tragedy, Hilinski’s death will not have been in vain.

That’s why I applaud the maturity and compassion I’ve seen on social media - an arena not always known for those traits - and the spreading of support for anyone who may be in need.

That’s why I applaud Drew Bledsoe’s poignant argument that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to seeking help - that reaching out for help isn’t a weakness but “the ultimate sign of strength.”

“If we sprain an ankle, we go see a doctor,” Bledsoe said. “If we’re struggling emotionally, we have to learn to treat it the same way.”

And that’s why I applaud the state’s House Higher Education Committee for unanimously approving a bill this week that would increase efforts to prevent suicide and improve mental health at colleges and universities throughout the state.

Which brings me to my second point about community. The reaction to Hilinski’s passing transcended all rivalries. It produced a unanimous empathy in a world that often struggles to provide it. We realized that same 21-year-old with whatever demons he privately fought likely lives among us in some different form - be it age, gender, religion or otherwise - but that we can all do things, big or small, to prevent a similar tragedy in our own inner circles.

The scene in Pullman Friday night embodied the virtue of community. It was heartbreaking, yet empowering. Sorrowful, yet comforting. It was a family grieving the loss of one of their own, but finding strength in those around them, feeling a similar pain.

So while the memories of Tyler Hilinski will live on forever, it’s most important that his circumstance - his hidden struggles - set an example and a reminder to all of us to be less quick to judge. That there are many others who fight similar demons everyday, whether they show it or not.

Tyler Hilinski’s death was shocking, untimely and incredibly sad. But spreading awareness, and embracing our community with a little extra empathy can hopefully spur progress around us that will ultimately become part of his legacy too.