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CJ Davis's Story

My name is CJ Davis and I am a retired college athlete. Sitting down to write this out has been something that has been keeping me up at night since I was approached by Redefyne a few days ago to tell my story of my college athletic career. I never thought anything I did in the fields of competitive play to be all that special or anything I did outside the lines to be of much importance. But by taking all this time to think about how I would tell my story, it made me realize that many athletes are struggling to put how they feel or what they are experiencing into words. They, like me, might believe that they do not have a voice or a story worth listening to. After realizing that this is how most of us felt, I knew that in order to help promote this idea of starting the conversation about athlete mental health, I needed to set the example and tell my story. This is going to be my best shot at telling my story and hopefully making sense of the things I felt, saw, and experienced in hopes that it inspires others to not only tell their stories but start the uncomfortable conversation with their teammates, coaches and family members.

I arrived at Norwich University in the Fall of 2016 with a spot on the baseball team as an outfielder. Throughout my recruiting process I was praised, encouraged and pushed to continue to develop my, what I was told to be, already great abilities. The adjustment period for me from High school level competition to college had a steep learning curve, that Fall season was a difficult one for me. Already coming from a high school program that had a coach that would pull players in the middle of at bats, I already was very risk and failure adverse. Always looking over my shoulder or into the dugout for signs of displeasure or a loud voice shouting out. When I arrived at Norwich that Fall, I already had the innocence I had played the game with taken away from me, and unfortunately it only got worse. The struggles in the Fall ultimately rolled over into the Spring and were multiplied by catching an illness for over a month and the loss of a family member. I simply wasn’t myself outside of the sport and especially in it, something that used to give me so much joy, quickly became something I wanted to avoid. With the struggles I faced, came silence from coaches and the opportunities to prove myself dried up. Fast forwarding to the end of my freshman year, a college career with so much promise for early opportunity and success, saw me seating on the bench not knowing where I stood with my coaches and my teammates, leading me to not play summer ball due to resent for the game for the first time since I was 9.

My sophomore year started with more of the same praise and promises that I had received the year before, but the major difference was is there was suddenly no communication with me or opportunity when the season started. I simply couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting a chance to step between the lines or wasn’t being given a straight answer as to why I hadn’t earned the chance. To put things in perspective, my sophomore season ended with me logging a career total of 30 at bats in two years filled with 80 games. In a game of failure, I felt like a failure and that summer I was ready to step away entirely. Baseball was the only constant to me in life up until that point, it was something I strived for, worked for and did everything for. Everything I did was for that game, but because of what I was going through and couldn’t put into words, I wanted to walk away.

I had arrived in the Fall of 2016 as a happy go lucky person, close with my family and extroverted. I made friends easy and spent much of my time surrounded by them. But by the end of the spring in 2018, I felt like a disappointment, and distant even surrounded by people. I stopped telling my parents about baseball, I stopped watching baseball and I found any excuse to be alone in my dorm whenever I could be. My grades for the first time in my life had started to slip. It was truly a bad time for me. Walking away from the game of baseball became an everyday thought in my mind.

This is the part of my story that gets confusing and looking back on it know I truly don’t understand what was going through my mind and why I made the decisions that I did at this time. I arrived back on campus as a junior and made it known to my coaches and teammates that I was contemplating stepping away because I just wasn’t myself and I wasn’t meeting baseball with the same love and passion that I had a few years earlier. I was met with ridicule, public humiliation by coaches and felt outcasted by those who months before told them they had my back no matter what. It felt like the ultimate betrayal. The guys I had spent countless hours grind with both in the classroom and on the field and the coaches who had been praising me suddenly turned on me. Life got very lonely. I continued to carry all of this weight throughout the fall and remained on the team, but during that time I ended up sustaining an injury that has kind of changed the course of my life.

Due to the mental state, I was in when I sustained that injury and the time away from the game and the grind, I found that I still loved the game and everything else around it and I would work to remain a part of it as a player when I got healthy. I committed myself to taking better care of my mind and my body by remaining more positive and focused on doing the right things that lead to success. But, like anything worth doing, it was going to take a lot of work to do that and a lot of changes both as an athlete and a person. I made a position change and I focused on the process over the results, but in order to do that I had to be honest with the people around me and myself. I had to force myself to have uncomfortable conversations with teammates about where I was mentally. I had to force conversations with coaches about where I truly stood with the team and what their expectations were. I, because of a COVID 5th year, was able to squeeze a couple more great seasons of baseball out of my career before finally hanging them up in the spring of 2021.

It wasn’t until after that I had numerous former teammates reach out and let me know that they too struggled with some of the same issues that I had and that by watching me talk openly about them and handle them in the way I was, that they were able to develop tools and ways to overcome them as well. It was by having an open and honest conversation with those around me was I able to impact them in a positive way, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

What I want people to take away from this is being an athlete at any level isn’t easy. We all shoulder high expectations not only as athletes but also as ambassadors for our programs or schools. We represent them away from the field and in the classroom and we always get harsher judgements made about us by people who don’t even know us. We have to fit countless hours of training into our schedules that are already packed with class and studying and some of us even have jobs. All of this on the shoulders of 18 to 22 year olds that are just trying to play a game that they love. As a parent, teammate, friend, coach or fan, please, the next time you strike up a conversation with an athlete, ask them how they are doing and don’t just brush off the answer.


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