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Utah has resources to help players cope with their grief after Aaron Lowe’s death

Kyle Whittingham addressed what the program provides players at Pac-12 media day in July.

SHARE Utah has resources to help players cope with their grief after Aaron Lowe’s death

A memorial for University of Utah sophomore defensive back Aaron Lowe, who was shot and killed early Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, is pictured at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center at the U. in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

During Pac-12 media day in late July, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and the two Ute players attending the event, Britain Covey and Devin Lloyd, were asked about mental health issues and what they were doing to cope with the tragic death of running back Ty Jordan.

Now, Utah is dealing with another unthinkable tragedy.

Defensive back Aaron Lowe was shot and killed early Sunday morning in Salt Lake City.

The Utes have a bye — they don’t play again until Oct. 9 at USC — and they won’t be talking to the media this week.

On3’s Ivan Maisel, who has dealt with heart-wrenching loss in his personal life, addressed what Utah coaches and players might be going through right now.

“It’s difficult to imagine the vibe in the Utah Utes’ football building this week. To have two teammates, close friends, die nine months apart is way past tragic, way past shattering, way past what any single word can encompass,” Maisel wrote. “Running back Ty Jordan died on Christmas night. Defensive back Aaron Lowe, who wore Jordan’s No. 22 jersey this season in tribute to his high school friend, was shot and killed early Sunday morning after Utah defeated Washington State on homecoming.

“Lowe’s teammates are lucky in that they have each other to lean on and confide in as they face overwhelming grief. I’d say that football will keep them busy, but that’s not always a good thing. If they don’t handle their grief well, they won’t function well, on or off the field.”

Back in July, Whittingham discussed with reporters what the school and the program has done to help his players in terms of mental health. 

“Yes, mental health is a big part of our program as far as offering resources and support. That’s something that our players, it was tough to deal with the Ty Jordan situation, still is. Fortunately our administration is committed. We have a full department that’s committed, that’s dedicated to mental health and counselors that our players can talk to and visit with,” Whittingham said. 

“We try to make it a point of emphasis to our players that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek mental health assistance. That’s part of life,” he continued. “It’s the same as being physically ill. If you need to get help, see somebody, there’s no shame or stigma attached to that.

“I think our coaches, our assistant coaches, have done a really good job of conveying that to our players. Our players seem to do a really good job of taking advantage of the resources we do have.”

From a mental health standpoint, that part of his job has changed dramatically during Whittingham’s 35 years in coaching.

“Yeah, it’s become an increasingly — a bigger part year to year. When I played, that wasn’t even a topic. I mean, it didn’t exist. When I got into coaching, it didn’t exist,” Whittingham said. “The last five, six, seven years it’s started to come to the forefront. I think it’s really benefited. I know it’s benefited a bunch of our players.

“Again, it’s something that we continually try to educate them that, ‘Hey, this is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a sign of being weak or not tough or any of that stuff. It’s reality. Let us know when you’re hurting and when you need some help and we’ll make sure we get it for you.’”

Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd said it’s important to prioritize the mental well-being of players.

“That’s huge because at the end of the day, we’re people. People in general see us as athletes. At times they can disregard the actual personal side of it,” Lloyd said. “Mental health is a huge thing. It should be a top priority and should be spoken about more and encouraged more to have people speak out when they are going through a rough time. There should be more positivity associated with people searching for help as opposed to negativity.”