Ahead of the 2018 season, the NFL announced a new rule designed to put a stop to silent protests during the national anthem.

Seemingly designed as a compromise — even if it's not — meant to quash the tradition started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, the new rule states that players can choose not to be on the field during the anthem (this was the norm until 2009, when the league mandated that players be on the sidelines during the anthem), adding that players who are on the field must "stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem."


The new rule sparked outcry, with some accusing the NFL of corporate censorship in an effort to shut down protest and others (including Donald Trump) saying the league didn't go far enough.

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.

The NFL Players' Association (NFLPA) released a statement expressing disappointment that the league didn't consult them before implementing this new rule. On the other hand, President Trump said that while he agrees with the new rule, "maybe [players who stay in the locker rooms] shouldn't be in the country."

One of the most thoughtful responses to the new rule came from Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho, who pledged to keep fighting for what's right.

Sam Acho. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

"Obviously, from the beginning, no one's intent, and no one's purpose, was to disrespect the flag," Acho said in a statement first reported by NBC 5 Chicago's Mike Berman.

Acho went on to note that the purpose of the protests have always been to take a stand against the police brutality facing people of color, recommitting himself to finding "a way to stand up for people who are being unjustly treated, find a way to stick up for justice in whatever way, shape, or form you can possibly do it."

When it comes to the question of whether he's OK with the new rule, he proposed a different question for himself and other players: "What do you do now?"

"Obviously, the protests have brought a ton of awareness to the abuses of power that are going on in our country, and I think that was a great method to start our conversation. And now ... we're seeing action," he wrote, noting that he, his teammates, and many others in the NFL are putting time and money towards off-field activism work.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

It's been nearly two years since Kaepernick took a knee, and we're still talking.

"I think a lot of players are happy about the conversations that are happening. So the protests served their purpose," Acho concluded:

"And if guys still want to protest, obviously the ruling is if you don't want to stand for the anthem, according to the owners, you can stay inside. ... I will say we continue to do what we're doing and speak up for those who can't speak for themselves."

It's easy to ignore the underlying issue being protested, to smear players as spoiled, and to argue that they should do more off the field if they actually care about these issues.

The truth is that, as Acho and the NFLPA have said, players do do a lot of work off the field to help their communities and to fight for causes they believe in.

Kaepernick donated a million dollars to charity and traveled across the U.S. helping people out. Veterans around the country have come out in support of the expression of free speech shown in these pre-game protests, even if they don't necessarily agree with the cause or the method.

As Acho said, though, the new rule is what it is. The real question is how NFL players — and the rest of us — can help continue this conversation and work for a better world.

After all, there's nothing more patriotic than working to make your country a place where we are all truly equal.

Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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