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The Hidden Cost of Competing at the Highest Level

I was recently posed a question in my Sport and Exercise Nutrition class that allowed me to tie everything I’m passionate about into one long statement. This is that statement. I hope this creates a discussion and allows people to look at sports in a unique way.

My passion and goal in life is to change the environment in which we live because God called me to do so. Specifically, regarding football.

Having played Division I football, I think our psychosocial environment rewards massiveness and athletic prowess based on the idea of maximizing each individual’s physical limits. As someone who attempted to maximize his own athletic ability in order to reach the pinnacle of athletic success, I was required to eat food beyond the point I was comfortable – all to maintain my size.

You see, size is so important. Especially, when we’re talking about football programs. Not only is Iowa a Big Ten program, it is one of the toughest and most physical levels that exists in college football. During my time as a Hawkeye, I was personally rewarded for maximizing my body’s potential for size, explosiveness, and specifically, for becoming the best football player and safety I possibly could.

Today, I sit here writing this as someone who was absolutely rewarded for reaching my peak massiveness, in terms of what my mental capacity could handle, and I can’t thank Iowa enough for that.

But, my question is, what is the cost? The personal cost for me was five knee surgeries, depression, and a loss of identity and faith – the single most important thing in my life.

The questions I pose to you are this: To what extent are we willing to push athletes to maximize their potential, yet forfeit their humanity? Is the cost worth the benefit? And if so, what are the long-term effects on our bodies because of this sacrifice?

More than likely, I will undergo a double knee replacement, suffer from back issues, chronic headaches and neck pain.

When will we understand the levels we are telling athletes to strive for? Will we be able to complement this grind with mental help, so that all athletes can bear this load? Or, do we change the standard? I don’t know.

But, something needs to change.

That brings me to the mental health solution to the issue.

God is real. God is love. We need God, so we need love.

As someone who experienced mental health issues, I believe God is the only answer. However, with that being said, I believe God allowed people to create medication to help his strongest warriors. The problem is, not all people struggling with mental health know God.

I battled depression, ask anyone in my life. But, I beat it because of my faith; not because of my fluoxetine. Understanding that, I believe the drug was God’s way of helping me hold on and know there were better days ahead. So, do I have a problem with mental health medication? Not at all. But in my opinion, the problem and solution lie in our humanity.

People struggling with mental health need people around them to show them love. We need more love. Remember? We need God, so we need love. If this helps one person struggling, then it’s all worth it. Your answer is in the Bible, not in a pill bottle. I tried the latter.

This is my passion and my calling, and I’m longing for people to join my fight to create a world where we can enjoy the countless benefits of sport and competition, lowering the risk of injury and mental health issues. I believe the answer is love.

I am only beginning to study and research this, but I’ve lived the story, so I know what worked for me. Maybe this isn’t the solution you think you need right now, but I beat depression because of God, and God alone. I’m so thankful for all the amazing people He put in my life to help me understand who He is.

I hope this encourages you to spend time thinking about what it takes to be great, elite, and maximize potential from a young age. And I hope there are people out there dedicated to this cause because it could be life-changing for so many people.

All I know is the rest of my life will revolve around love. The best way I can show love to people is to use my story, my knowledge and my God-created desires, to help people know love and God the way I do now.

-Brandon Snyder

Brandon Snyder played NCAA Division I Football for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes from 2014-2017, before transferring to South Dakota State University for his senior season in 2018.

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