KU football legend helping others after mental health struggle

Kansas Jayhawks

LAWRENCE (KSNT) – Athletes have an array of mental health resources, but what about after they hang up the cleats?

“The thoughts of suicide started to play a factor in my brain,” Tony Sands, KU running back from 1988-1991, said.

It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but what do athletes do when there’s no adrenaline rush from the crowd? Where does the energy go?

“It was a hard one,” Sands said. “I mean, I struggled with who I was as a person, what my purpose was on this earth as a person.”

May is mental health awareness month, and former Jayhawk running back Tony Sands dealt with his share of mental illness after his time as an athlete.

“I knew I would possibly never be in a locker room as a brotherhood with guys,” he said. “Something I had done my whole entire life, since I was 5 years old, was over.”

In 1991, Sands broke the FBS single-game records for yards and carries, with 58 carries for 396 yards. Not having constant affirmation from fans and teammates anymore sent sands into depression. 

He now trains athletes of multiple sports in South Florida, and he incorporates lessons about mental health and life after sports. He’s worked with athletes such as MVP Lamar Jackson and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.

Athletes aren’t educated on how it feels to retire from their sport. Even with all the coverage and systems in place for them now, they still don’t focus on the feelings after.

“What I would tell them, first of all, that you can turn your life around if you reach out for help,” Sands said. “If you find that one thing, and everybody has it. Sports is not the only joy that we have. We have so many other great blessings that come before us, we have just got to capitalize on them.”

The combination of his own struggle with what he witnessed through his father as a Vietnam veteran,  inspired Sands to write his book, I was before my time.

“I’ve got to use what I have,” Sands said. “The knowledge I acquired through meeting with his therapist and things of that nature. I’ve got to use it. I’ve got to write it down.”

The moral of his story is your sport is not your life, just a part of it. So, lay the foundation for life after it. 

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