Morgan’s Message: How one girl’s tragedy is saving others

From the outside, Morgan Rodgers seemed to have it all: she was a cherished daughter, sister, teammate, friend, an intelligent young woman, and she was a stellar lacrosse player. The all-American from Virginia was an energetic, bright person inside and out, loved by all who knew her. Despite her outward appearance, though, a darker presence existed inside Morgan, and her life was tragically cut short when she committed suicide in 2019, only a few weeks after her 22nd birthday. 

Morgan was a hard worker in everything she did; she worked for the highest grades she could get, and she hustled to play Division 1 lacrosse in college, deciding to go to Duke University to continue her athletic career. However, leading up to her high school graduation, Morgan began her mental health struggles. However, with huge support and professional help, she began to feel better before going off to college, hopeful for her future. 

Morgan started college in the fall of 2015, and right off the bat, she was a stand-out player for Duke, even vying for a captain position her sophomore year. Morgan was on top of the world, until every athlete’s worst nightmare came true for her.

In January 2017, only months away from the beginning of her sophomore season, Morgan shattered her knee in a practice, knocking her out of playing. After surgeries and hours of rehab, she was expected to make a full recovery 12 months after her injury. Despite her injury, Morgan continued grinding away at school and was still committed to her team. 

Unfortunately, the projected recovery timeline of 12 months soon became unrealistic for Morgan. She was able to run and move around, but she wasn’t the same pre-injury. 

In the fall of 2018, Morgan was definitively marked unable to physically compete at the college varsity level. Naturally, this was a crushing blow for Morgan, someone who loved being in the action of the game. Missing out on the camaraderie and thrill of playing, Morgan began feeling as though she didn’t fit in, and her mental health began to take a turn for the worse. 

In the summer of 2019, a few days after the Fourth of July, Morgan Rodgers’ inner turmoil took over, and she committed suicide in her apartment. 

Morgan’s struggle with anxiety and depression after her injury was hidden from everyone, including her parents, who couldn’t figure out how they didn’t notice Morgan’s mental health issues. But Morgan made sure to hide her battles; in the athletic world, the words “mental health” were practically taboo. 

In an interview about Morgan and her story, her father, Kurt Rodgers, stated: “You’re watching a game and the quarterback falls on his throwing wrist or a running back tears his ACL. There’ll be a group of trainers and doctors there within 10 seconds. But mental health is not treated the same way. If you say, ‘I just need a break. I’m not well,’ it’s like ‘C’mon, you gotta tough it out. Get back in the game.’”

There’s always seemed to be a longstanding stigma around talking about mental health, but the stigma seems to be tenfold in the sports world. Athletes are expected to have grit and toughness, which, of course, is a good mindset to have, but it does not mean that athletes have to work through everything in life with that same toughness. 

Enter Morgan’s Message. Created by Morgan’s parents, Kurt and Dona, the non-for-profit organization seeks to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health within the student-athlete community, to equalize the treatment of physical and mental health in high school and collegiate athletics, and to normalize conversations on the topic.

Morgan’s Message has grown across the country, with 480 at-large ambassadors (who are not current student-athletes) and over 3,000 student-athlete ambassadors. It’s safe to say that the organization has reached the student-athlete community and has provided hope and support for anyone who needs to be uplifted.  

Mental health struggles, for Morgan and for anyone else, should not have to be hidden, and athletes especially should not feel like their problems should be shaken off simply because they’re supposed to be “tough, gritty” athletes. 

“Mental illness fills your brain with lies,” Dona Rodgers said. “It told Morgan that what she was feeling was something that she should not share with anyone. It told her that she could handle it by herself. It told her that she was a burden. And then ultimately it told her that [ending her life] was the best route for her.”

It shouldn’t have taken until a life ended for athletes’ mental health to come into light. But out of Morgan’s tragedy, a wake-up call came into the sport’s world, telling them to put more focus on the mental needs of athletes across all sports. Since its creation in 2020, Morgan’s Message has been seen in the NHL and NBA, and games are dedicated to the cause in college and high school. 

Four years after her passing, Morgan Rodgers’ story and spirit still lives on within Morgan’s Message. Though her story is tragic, she will never be forgotten, and without knowing it, she has helped save many other student-athletes in their mental health struggles.   

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