This was a question I have pondered for a long time. To a few, I am family. A brother, a son, a friend. To others, I am a familiar face. One they see around campus minding my own business, a friend, someone that’s always there. To others, I am simply a football player. However, none of those define me. I am Tyler Vander Waal. If you don’t know me, well you do know and for those of you that do, I am about to take you deep into my life that many people dont know about in hopes of helping others along the way.
A football player is how I would best be described by many people. A big, intimidating football player and in today’s society that already puts a label on your head. But whats wrong with being a football player? I am a D1 athlete, I’m on scholarship, everything is paid for, Im still playing the sport I loved from the age of 6. Whats wrong with being a football player? Well I am a football player but I am more of a football player. I am a person just like you. I am a person behind the helmet. I have feelings just like your mother, your father, your best friend, and yourself.
Now growing up playing football, I was always told to never show emotion because it shows weakness. Now, as a man and an athlete, the stereotype is to be masculine and tough right? Dont show weakness. Be a man. Dont cry. Dont be a pussy. WRONG! I am a human.
Now all thats great but let me take you deeper into my life.
I loved football. My whole life I loved the game. When I was playing I felt on top of the world. I couldn’t be stopped. I was the little boy in my backyard playing for the first time that’s how much fun I was having. In May of 2018, that all changed. I was named the starting Quarterback for the Wyoming Cowboys. I was 19, a redshirt freshman. I was replacing NFL first-round draft pick Josh Allen. At this point Im still Tyler Vander Waal.
Then the season happens. Game 1. My first start. Nervous, butterflies, every emotion you can imagine, I felt it. Beyond that we played on ESPN at primetime 7 p.m. I joke that I was so nervous, I dont remember running out on the field and running my first play but, I truly dont. Now as the season starts to go on I dont get viewed as a human anymore. Im only an athlete. Im not Tyler Vander Waal. I am #18.
Now that we won the first game, you’d think a sigh of relief would be released? No it only intensified. But the cool part? The fame. The bad part? The fame.
The next week we played Washington State at home. Gardner Minshews first game as a Washington State Cougar and I was playing him? At home? I was juiced. Then boom, My phone starts to go off. DM after DM comes across every social media platform. Fans from all over wishing me good luck. Then I read one that broke me.
“You fucking suck. Go kill yourself. Worst QB in college football” Those words will always haunt me.
At this point, the reality sets in. Im not longer a human. I am only an athlete. People dont care about my feelings. They only care about Saturdays. Now as a 19-20 year old hearing this I just brush it off.
Game time comes. Didnt play well. We lost. Boom. Here it comes again.
The amount of death threats I recieved was insane. Im a mountain west QB. I am 19 years old. Playing the game I love and here are people from my school sending me messages telling me to kill myself. Worse than that, grown adults were in my DMs messaging me telling me how bad I was, that I should quit, that I should die.
Thats when the love was taken from me. I realized how serious this was. I wasn’t a little boy playing football for the fun of it. I was scared to make a mistake. I was tired of the death threats. As the season went on, this didnt get any better. It actually got worse.
Now as a man, when is it okay to cry? Because these words broke me. I remember we were 2-6. I was receiving death threats and messages like this daily. I got benched game 9. I cried my self to sleep at night. I didnt know how to deal with this.
At this point I hated football. It wasn’t fun. My joy was taken from me and I didnt try anything to get it back and as a result things got worse.
Ill get into that story later.
I realized sports is 90% mental and 10% performing and when you cant think because you’re worried about everyone else or scared to make mistake it takes a tole on your game.
Now, no one knows about these messages but I am opening up telling my story not for sympathy but to tell you how harmful words can be and how they can impact the way you think, act, and perform. I will always remember those DMs I received and how much they hurt.
I am an athlete but more than that, I am a human. I have feelings. I am not just an athlete. Before you say something put yourself in some one elses shoes because you never the impact it may have on someone else.
I am more than an athlete and will not let those words define me anymore.