SPOKANE, Wash. — Wednesday marks one year since the Washington State University community lost beloved quarterback Tyler Hilinski to suicide.
Authorities were called to Hilinski’s apartment after he did not show up to football practice earlier in the day. Officers said they found a rifle and suicide note next to his body.
Hilinski was the second-string quarterback for WSU and was expected to be the starter for the 2018-2019 season. He would have been a redshirt junior.
The loss had a profound impact on Hilinski’s family and the Cougs alike. The overwhelming response to the star player’s death was more mental health resources – especially for student-athletes – and reducing the stigma surrounding struggles with mental health.
“It's always going to be with us. I think we really want Tyler to be remembered and this to be talked about. When suicide is the second leading cause of death for men 18 to 45-years-old it should be talked about and we should do something about it,” former WSU football player Luke Falk said last January.
“I feel like at times we feel like we can't express our emotions because we're in a masculine sport and being a quarterback people look up to you as a leader. So he felt like he couldn't talk to anybody,” Falk continued. “We gotta change some of that stuff. We gotta have resources and not have any more stigma about people going to that."
Hilinski’s death came as a shock to everyone, including his fellow teammates, coaches, closest friends and family. Falk said many of the players felt guilt after their friend’s death.
"I think all of us that were close to him just kind of go back and ask ourselves were there signs? What could we have done? I think we all feel a little bit of guilt. I wish that I could have given him one more hug, one more pat on the butt and let him know that he's loved," Falk said.
Hilinski’s parents Mark and Kym said the family “had no idea” their son was suffering and described him as a “bright, spirited, and caring soul.”
As Kym and Hilinski’s brother Kelly traveled across Washington state in May, they handed out Hilinski’s Hope bracelets to spread that message. Since then, photos of Hilinski’s Hope wristbands have appeared throughout the state and worldwide. The Suicide Hotline number is written on the inside of the bracelets.
Donations to Hilinski’s Hope have poured in from around the country and overseas.
The foundation also began a tradition of using the hashtag #WearItWednesday where people share photos wearing their Hilinski's Hope bracelets. It seems fitting that people are remembering Hilinski one year later on a Wednesday.
In August, the Hilinskis said they are trying to move the conservation forward by focusing less on what happened to Tyler – for which they are still seeking answers – and more about how such tragedies can be prevented in the future.
Painted in the center of the field on that day was a blue and purple ribbon for suicide prevention and awareness. WSU also observed Suicide Prevention Month in September.
More recently, Hilinski’s Hope teamed up with the NCAA Sport Science Institute to promote mental wellness support for college athletes.
The partnership between the NCAA and Hilinski’s Hope aims to identify effective strategies for “increasing the adoption and implementation for understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness at all NCAA member institutions,” according to NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline.
Hilinski’s death also raised awareness about another issue affecting athletes: CTE. The degenerative brain disease is often found in athletes and veterans, and several studies have linked it to playing football.
Five months after Hilinski's death, his family said the Mayo Clinic studied his brain and found evidence of CTE.
"It was a shock to get those results and find out that he had it, and to realize that this sport that he loved may have contributed to that diagnosis," Kym said on the Today Show in June. "Did CTE kill Tyler? I don't think so. Did we get CTE from playing football? Probably. Was that the only thing that contributed to his death? I don't know."
"The medical examiner said he had the brain of a 65-year-old, which is really hard to take," Mark added. "He was the sweetest, most outgoing kid. That was difficult to hear."
In light of the news that Hilinski’s brain showed evidence of CTE, WSU outlined the mental health support the university had in place prior to his suicide and efforts they have taken since.
If you know someone who is having thoughts of suicide, there is help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed 24/7, so someone will always pick up the phone. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. WSU also has a 24/7 Crisis Line. They can be reached at 509-335-2159.