Our university boasts one of the best, most established and the oldest rugby league clubs in the country; The University of Leeds Rugby League Club. Our first team competes strongly every year in the northern premier league and the national cup, with our second team fielding an improving side every year with players competing weekly for a place in the first team. Not only are we a respected club throughout university rugby league but internally recognized as the University of Leeds Team of the Year 2016, in our 50th year of competing. We pride ourselves on being a tight knit, diverse club that grows in strength and stature every year, and every member of the club can vouch for it being the best and most important aspect of their university life.
However, through all of the fun and excitement of being involved in a successful rugby league club, sometimes our darkest hours are not documented. James Burke, a valued and dear friend to all involved in the club and a wonderful talent on the pitch took his own life in April 2017. Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as might be expected.
“Suicide is the biggest killer among young men in the UK, which to me and my friends involved in Rugby, is not acceptable in a world that is supposedly the most accepting and tolerant generation of humans so far.”
How is it okay that our brother felt he had nowhere to turn in his time of need?
A silver lining
It quickly becomes clear what’s important in our situation, and we are reacting in a way to honour Burko’s life in the best way we know how. Campaigns like #itsokaytotalk have paved the way and with the help of charities and organisations like Mantality, headed by Leeds Rhino’s Stevie Ward, and The Andy Man’s club, the message has begun to get out there about mental health in young men and athletes.
Closer to home Sharon Burke, the strongest and most inspirational woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, has set up the James Burke Foundation that as a club we now work closely with. Fundraising ideas have been plentiful from everyone involved including concrete plans for a month of events in November and the running (and probably some walking) of the Leeds half marathon next year. We would invite you to contact the club through the student union for more information if you would like to get involved in the fundraising work. You can do this by emailing Student Activities on Activities@leeds.ac.uk.
Special thanks to the Leeds University Union and University of Leeds for the help and support in the tough times and the continued support in helping us with our work.
University of Leeds Rugby League Club