By Greg Wilson
Published July 22, 2019
University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh either doubled down on or clarified - depending on how you look at it - controversial comments he made about college players citing mental health issues as a reason to transfer to another school and not have to sit out a season.
Harbaugh, the fiery former NFL quarterback who has coached the Wolverines since ...., was widely blasted for saying in a Friday ESPN radio interview during Big Ten Media Day that players could lie about mental issues in order to avoid having to sit out a season, as transfers typically must. He later said all players should get one free transfer and be eligible immediately. On Saturday, he followed that up with a statement.
“In response to some who say I am deflecting and dodging or pushing an agenda, they could not be more wrong. Rather I am choosing to be forthright and transparent," Harbaugh wrote via his Twitter account. "As asked multiple times yesterday (Friday) at Big Ten Media Day, I offered an opinion. My belief is that a one-time transfer should be allowed for all student-athletes. I am clearly advocating for rights that college football players have not had. This would be the decision totally in the hands of the student-athlete and family and would protect all from disclosing information and rights afforded under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act).”
It all began a day earlier when the coach said players could easily lie and say they had issues in order to transfer without penalty.
"And the other piece that bothers me about it is the youngster that says, 'This is a mental health issue. I'm suffering from depression.' Or that's a reason to get eligible," Harbaugh said. "And once that's known: 'Hey, say this or say that' to get eligible. The problem I see in that is you're going to have guys that are, 'OK, yeah, I'm depressed.'
"Say what they've got to say. But down the road I don't see that helping them if it's not a legitimate thing. But nobody would know. But what are you going to say? Ten years down the road – 'I just had to say what I had to say?' And I think you're putting them in a position that's unfair, not right. And, as you said, you're saying it just to say it. And that's not truthful. That's not necessarily truthful. It's not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters. Especially at a college."
Although Harbaugh did not mention him, one of his former players at Michigan, James Hudson, transferred to University of Cincinnati and was denied a waiver to sit out a season. He then claimed he suffered depression at Michigan, but was still not allowed to resume play without sitting out a season.
Hudson's mother, Glenda Hudson, told Cincinnati.com comments like Harbaugh's could prevent players from speaking up or seeking help.
Michigan Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis defended his boss on Twitter.
“The media’s narrative of coach Harbaugh’s quotes have been taken out of context to build a story. Mental health is a disturbing disease that has affected myself and my immediate family twice with suicide (and) another suicide by a close friend. Mental health is something that is often overlooked with very few noticeable symptoms. It was something my family never saw coming," Gattis wrote. "However, respect for mental health is not about how fast you can rush an individual back to the school, sport, or whatever caused this mental trauma. The right protocol is to get anyone dealing with any mental issues the right therapy/support needed over TIME to suppress this disease for the long term well-being of the person. This topic is bigger than football, it’s bigger than a game, it’s bigger than immediate eligibility! It’s about LISTENING, LOVE & LIFE!"