Former Ohio State Player Harry Miller is on a Mission of Mental Health Advocacy
The ex-offensive lineman will deliver the keynote address at the Faces of Resilience fundraiser to benefit the OSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.
Harry Miller didn’t expect to spend his summer in Washington, D.C., interning with the satellite communications company Iridium. If things had gone as planned, the Buford, Georgia, native would have been preparing for his first NFL training camp, following a successful junior year at Ohio State University. “A year ago, I was speaking to agents, talking about declaring for the NFL draft,” Miller recalls in early July, speaking over the phone from his D.C. apartment.
Instead, the mechanical engineering student is helping to develop navigation technology for planes and other vessels. And after he returns to Columbus for his senior year in a few weeks, he will be the main attraction at an Ohio Stadium event—though it won’t be a football game. On Sept. 20, Miller will deliver the keynote address at the annual Faces of Resilience fundraiser at the stadium’s Northwest Loge Club. The event supports the OSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, a program that Miller credits with helping to save his life. “I want to help people that I see every day on campus,” Miller says. “That would be such a great opportunity, and I’m excited about that.”
This new mission came about because of a choice Miller made on March 10, 2022. On that day, Miller announced on Twitter his decision to medically retire from the OSU football team, revealing that before the 2021 football season began, the promising offensive lineman told OSU football coach Ryan Day that he intended to kill himself. Day, who expanded mental health services in the football program, referred Miller to OSU sports psychologist Candice Williams and Dr. Joshua Norman, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at the OSU Wexner Medical Center. Both helped Miller through this dark period; he returned to the field briefly in 2021, but the pain was still there. “I tried my luck at football once again, with scars on my wrists and throat,” wrote Miller, who then decided he could no longer continue to play.
The 736-word statement, posted on Twitter, was remarkable for its honesty, thoughtfulness and vulnerability. Here was a gifted young man—a musician, high school valedictorian, 4.0 student, 6-foot-4-inch, 315-pound Adonis who looks like he should be wielding a magical hammer in a Marvel movie—acknowledging his suffering in the most candid terms. “Maybe if somebody’s hurt can be taken seriously for once, it can be mine,” Miller wrote. “And maybe I can vouch for all the other people who hurt but are not taken seriously because, for some reason, pain must have prerequisites.”
Miller spoke out because he believed he had to. “People were asking a lot of questions, because I sort of just went off the grid,” he says in July. To put a stop to that speculation, Miller decided “it would be best to have the story come from my mouth as opposed to it being scraped together by hearsay from other people.”
His post didn’t generate the response he anticipated. “I was expecting maybe to shout loudly and have it echo once and that be it,” he says. Instead, it became something of a phenomenon, spreading across social media, attracting national media attention and turning Miller into a powerful spokesperson for mental health awareness. In an emotional appearance on the Today Show 11 days after his Twitter post, Miller shared his story with a national TV audience, hoping that it would inspire others to seek help, as he did.
Today, Miller says his health is good. He’s enjoying his time working for Iridium, a company run by OSU graduate Matthew Desch, with clients that include SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Garmin. “They work with a lot of big names, and a lot of cool opportunities, I think, could come out of it,” says Miller, who’d like to work with space vehicles someday.
But his ambitions extend beyond exploring the cosmos. He talks about becoming a Rhodes scholar, a dream he’s had since high school, and he’d like to publish a collection of short stories. One of his therapists, Williams, encouraged Miller to explore his feelings on the page, but instead of writing something directly autobiographical, Miller—an admirer of such literary giants as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck—found that fiction was a better vehicle. “I think it’s easier to communicate sentiments, emotions and experiences,” he says.
And he plans to make mental health advocacy a lifelong mission, seeing himself in the character Fiddler Jones, from the eponymous 1915 poem by Edgar Lee Masters. “And if the people find you can fiddle,” Masters writes, “why, fiddle you must, for all your life.”
“So for me, then, fiddle I must, speak I must, as much as I can, for all my life,” Miller says.
When asked if he considers himself brave for speaking out, Miller cites a famous Leonard Cohen lyric: “It’s a cold, and it’s a broken hallelujah.”
“I don’t know if that’s bravery, but that’s what it felt like,” he says. “It’s like being as honest as I could be. It was a cold and broken hallelujah, and it was just what had to happen. Somebody had to say something, and I happened to be somebody.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, you can reach Ohio’s 24/7 Crisis Text Line by texting 4HOPE to 741741, call the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-221-5445, or call the new national mental health crisis hotline by dialing 988.
This story is from the September 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.