Buddy Check for Jesse raises awareness of mental health among athletes
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2022 (429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Stu Gershman walked into the dressing room with a message far more important than x’s and o’s.
It was the week after his oldest son Jesse died from suicide on Oct. 29, 2014 at the age of 22. His younger sons, Max and Zak, had hockey games and Gershman, an assistant coach on both of their teams, felt he had to start a conversation before the puck dropped.
“Max and Zak are going to walk into the dressing room and their brother just died from suicide seven days ago. The other players on the team are going to feel uncomfortable,” said Gershman, a 59-year-old sport medicine physician who was born and raised in Winnipeg before moving to Victoria, B.C., 32 years ago.
“They don’t know what to do, they don’t know what to say. So, I felt it was my own responsibility not only for my own boys, but for the other players on the team to feel comfortable and know that it’s OK to talk about these things.”
Shortly after, it was mentioned to Gershman that green is the colour associated with mental-health awareness, leading to the teams taping up their sticks with green hockey tape. They also began to raise funds for a scholarship at the University of Victoria in Jesse’s name. It was initially supposed to start and end there, but prior to the 2015 season, Max and Zak asked their dad if he was going to have a similar conversation with their teams to raise awareness about mental health.
“I was like ‘OK. Let’s do this.’ … It was just a discussion about the invisibility of mental-health challenges and the importance of supporting each other, showing compassion, and how words matter,” said Gershman. “You never know what somebody is going through. Someone could be the best stickhandler but they might be having some troubles.”
It continued for the next few seasons and then, on the three-year anniversary of Jesse’s passing, it hit him that other teams should be doing this, too. That’s when he reached out to Barry Petrachenko, who was BC Hockey’s executive director at the time, about starting a new mental-health initiative called Buddy Check for Jesse. The program provides coaches with sample talks that they can have with their players about the importance of mental health and checking in on one another. It also supplies teams with green tape, wristbands, bag tags and information cards.
“Many coaches that were initially intimidated after they’ve done a little chat, they’re like ‘Oh, that wasn’t hard at all,’” Gershman said.
“The key is the coach has an important role in that athlete’s life and when they just bring up the subject, they’ve already accomplished something.”
The initiative has officially arrived in Gershman’s hometown as Buddy Check for Jesse has partnered with Hockey Manitoba. The information is intended for all sports, not just hockey, and Gershman is hoping to team up with more sports organizations in the near future. Hockey Manitoba has received 600 packages for youth hockey teams around the province. Most teams are expected to have their Buddy Check conversations this week.
Buddy Check for Jesse has made its way across the country and Gershman thanks his three Winnipeg ambassadors, Robyn Vandersteen, Michael Gershman, and Dani Soret, for their support in making that happen.
“It’s very special. It’s hard to define because I do have a connection to Manitoba. To know that we’re honouring Jesse by having the program running in my home province, it certainly gives it an extra special feeling.”
You can learn more about Buddy Check for Jesse at https://buddycheckforjesse.com.
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