Yesterday morning, Tyler Hilinski, the projected starting quarterback for the Washington State Cougars football team, was found dead in his apartment, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was just 21 years old.
This is a kid who was carried off the field on the shoulders of his peers just weeks ago, the hero of a triple-overtime comeback victory. On most college campuses, there is no bigger hero or star than the quarterback of a winning football team. No party is inaccessible, no club off limits. Every girl wants to date you, and every guy wants to be you. To outsiders, it seems like the perfect life.
But for Tyler Hilinski, it was apparently anything but.
Who can know what demons plagued this young man? Washington State and its coach, Mike Leach, have sent several quarterbacks to the NFL, so his chances of having a multi-million dollar career at the next level were strong. All accounts seem to suggest that he came from a good family—his younger brother is a top quarterback prospect, as well. It feels incredibly inappropriate to even guess at the cause for his pain. For God’s sake, he was a kid.
But it’s not inappropriate to realize that everybody is feeling something painful. Right now, you’re might be reading this on a computer or mobile device in your workplace. Chances are that somebody in that office is hurting just as much as Tyler Hilinski was. Somebody fears for their job. Somebody there is struggling with a bad marriage, or an abusive spouse. Somebody there is overwhelmed by debt. Somebody there has a secret illness, or a sick child.
In this world where we have self-selected ourselves into tribes, it’s common for us to be insulated from the pain of members of the other tribes, to dehumanize those who don’t share our political and social beliefs. Social media can make it feel sometimes like everybody out there is living a better and more fulfilling life than we are. You look at Facebook or Instagram and everybody else is buying expensive items and living in perfectly decorated homes and taking their 2.2 perfect children on lavish vacations, and you’re sitting there counting coins to buy bread.
I’m personally hurting today. So are you. Maybe your hurt is greater than mine, or maybe mine is. Doesn’t matter. We’re hurting. And it shouldn’t be shameful to admit it, or to get help for it.
Tyler Hilinski’s death is serving as a reminder to me that maybe it isn’t so important to win that Twitter argument, or to post a picture of that new watch. Maybe it’s more important to walk over to the neighboring office, knock on my colleague’s door, and ask him or her how she’s doing today. Maybe it’s more important for me to listen with the intent of understanding his pain, and to let him know that I’m here for him.
Because if a star quarterback with eight-figure career prospects is hurting enough to decide that he needs a permanent solution to a temporary problem, then maybe somebody else around you is, too. Forget your blue, or gray, or red tribe for a minute, and remember that the human tribe is one that we all belong to.