The seminal moment in Kevin Warren’s youth eventually gave him strength, confidence and a window into mental health.
At 11, Warren was struck by a car while riding his bike in Phoenix. While doctors fixed broken limbs, not once did he meet with a counselor or psychiatrist.
“Over time,” he said, “I rewired certain parts of my brain and worked through it.”
When he was named Big Ten commissioner 11 months ago, Warren laid out his “holistic” approach to student-athletes, saying he would encourage financial literacy, voter registration and mental health initiatives.
To that end, the Big Ten announced Monday it will give its student-athletes, coaches and full-time members of university athletic departments free, unlimited access to Calm, the most downloaded mental fitness app.
Calm, named Apple’s App of the Year in 2017, aims to help users cope with stress and anxiety while improving their focus and sleep.
Warren pointed out that this is not a sponsorship, adding, “We’re putting forth the resources.”
The standard rate for a yearly subscription is $59.99.
Warren said the timing of the announcement coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month, which is May. The initiative is not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warren believes in the app, saying he uses it for meditation. And he mentioned his relationship with Maverick Carter, a businessman who works with LeBron James.
James last year announced a partnership with Calm, saying it can “empower athletes” and helps him deal with a “stressful world.”
Iowa track and field athlete Marissa Mueller, who met Warren while he was on a tour of Big Ten campuses, said she looks forward to using the app.
“Right now it’s hard to see a sports psychologist,” she said. “This has resources you can access 24/7.”
Mueller, a javelin thrower, has taken part in the Bandana Project, which was created at Wisconsin to spread awareness and support of mental health initiatives. Participants tie a lime green bandana to their book bags as a signal to fellow students that they can supply support and hand out resource cards.
“Historically mental health has been stigmatized,” Mueller said. “It shouldn’t be.”
Warren is making sure of that as well. In December he formed a 31-member cabinet to promote optimal mental health for student-athletes.
“One of my cornerstones when I interviewed for the job was that I wanted to make sure we are educating, empowering and embracing our student-athletes,” he said. “Mental health and wellness are critical components.”
Warren said he was influenced by driving a carpool for his daughter, Peri, and observing and listening to her friends. He gained more insight into teenage lives while his son, Powers, who plays tight end at Mississippi State, was recruited to play college football.
The Big Ten also has a powerful mental health advocate in Ohio State football coach Ryan Day, who lost his father to suicide when he was 9. Day and his wife, Christina, started a fund for pediatric and adolescent mental wellness in Columbus, Ohio.
“Ryan is an incredible coach and he has a story too,” Warren said. “This is a complex time in society, and people have a lot of pain their life. We can not only focus on the physical health of our student-athletes; when they tear an ACL or suffer a shoulder separation, they get an MRI or treatment. We want to remove the stigma when they are struggling with mental health issues.”
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