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'It was either say something or die': Harry Miller on his decision to retire from football

In a special interview, joined by Ryan Day, Harry Miller talks about walking away from his Buckeye dream to save his own life.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Harry Miller came to Ohio State as many players do to be part of a championship-caliber team.

As a freshman, the offensive lineman worked his way up to the team’s backup center playing in 13 of 14 games.

After starting in seven games during the shortened 2020 season, Miller was projected to be the Buckeyes’ starting center last fall.

But the Georgia-native was listed on the team’s unavailable list for a majority of the season.

While the list could mean a player is sidelined for numerous reasons from illnesses to injuries, no one knew what was keeping Miller off the field.

"I was seeing over the course of the season people raise questions or make speculations, which in a way is irritating in one respect but also unfair to the truth," Miller said.

Earlier this year, Miller shared he was medically retiring from football and shared a powerful message as to why: He was stepping away from his dream to save his life.

"Prior to the season last year, I told Coach [Ryan] Day of my intention to kill myself," Miller wrote.

Miller discussed his mental health struggles and how he tried to continue playing even with scars on his body.

"They are hard to see, and they are easy to hide, but they sure do hurt," he wrote. "There was a dead man on the television set, but nobody knew it."

In an interview with 10TV's Dom Tiberi, Miller said he had a history of mental health and was inundated with thoughts that would often scare or hurt most people.

"That was just thinking for me,” he said. “I got to the point where I was pretty fed up with it and I realized how long I was thinking this way and for me, I thought that was normal. I thought everybody was thinking this way I just thought was the way it is."

Before last season, Miller said he was really in a bad spot.

“There is a huge amount of stress prior to the season. There is a huge amount of stress surrounding competition and that was one stresser paired with many other stressers paired with many other experiences I’ve had that were sort of culminating,” he said.

That became Miller’s tipping point and promoted him to say something is wrong.

“It was either say something or die essentially,” he said.

After talking to Day, he said the coach immediately had him in touch with people and got the support he needed. During the season, he was working privately through things with the sports psychologists at Ohio State.

"First off Harry had to do the work, and that was not easy but to see what he’s doing and the impact at such a young age is tremendous," Day said.

The issue of mental health is personal to Day. When he was 9 years old, his father died by suicide.

Since becoming the head coach, Ohio State has added a dedicated staff to help players with mental health issues.

Day said they have some really good doctors, psychologists and counselors for these types of things. He adds though for a long time they were there but just didn’t get the work.

“People didn’t want to do the work on themselves. And that to me, is the magic to what’s happened,” he said. “When you look at a lot of these young people we are losing, they don’t reach out in those moments and so to try to say it’s okay what you’re feeling that there is help out there.”

Day said Miller is getting to a place where he is looking to help others.

“Harry has almost repurposed his life to help people in that way. To say it’s okay to ask for help in those moments,” Day said. “To me, that’s more than half the battle is starting that initial conversation and say ‘hey, I need some help here.’”

Then, on March 10, Miller made his announcement to the world.

"We talked about announcing it, so I did and that promoted a slew of things following that of speaking and sharing my story with people," Miller said.

Miller said he's very grateful for seeing the response from people.

"I’m grateful now to experience what I’ve experienced because it has equipped me with the words and the understanding of the sentiments when people have said ‘I’ve felt that way too’ to hopefully reach out to those people," he said.

“Harry doesn’t owe it to anybody to tell his story and a lot of those things are private to him and he’s really gone out there and done it and that’s courage,” Day said. “That’s the kind of people you want in your building every day.”

When discussing his history with Miller, Day recalled recruiting him when he was an assistant coach with the Buckeyes.

"When you go through the recruiting process you build relationships. And you’re on a journey together you never know where these things are going to go, and here we are and this is a success story," he said.

Now, Miller is trying to work upon that success and bring about change for others including student-athletes.

"Nobody has to say anything, but that’s precisely why somebody has to say something because we can continue to not say anything, just has we have been doing for a long time, and we can continue to have young people die if that is what we want to happen," he said.

He adds it is sometimes difficult to talk about his wounds.

"Sometimes I have to reopen them, which is a painful process, but regardless the wounds are there, so let them be useful," he said.

Miller said he is grateful to be in this position.

“As people, we have a calling to be kind to our neighbors and talk to them to the people we love and also to strangers," Miller said. "I just hope that speaking more that can sort of put light on that and change what’s being said."

As a football player, Miller said you can feel trapped by your destiny and your expectations, especially for other student-athletes.

"It is a game, and we play it like a game, but if you make a mistake you receive death threats and that’s where people make it a game of life or death," he said.

He adds that is where student-athletes become so confused and it is terribly isolating and alienating.

"I remember that's how I felt," he said. "I don't even want to be here anymore, and I have to be in front of 100,000 people next weekend. How is that supposed to work?"

Miller said his advice to those people who don't know what to say or how to get out, speak to the people that care about them.

"You'd be surprised at how much grace people would offer you," he said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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