The Judo community has suffered a massive loss with the death of Jack Hatton. He was 24 and one of the country's rising Judo stars.
It's times like these I'm always reminded of the sanctity of our experience. We come into this world with no choice or control. Our situations differ, but the expectations placed upon us remain the same: to grow. Like many of you I had the opportunity to watch Jack grow. The setting was an upstate New York Dojo at it's peak. Objectively, there wasn't a more concentrated room full of Judo on the western hemisphere back then. We were the Kodokan't.
Jack grew up in that chaos. Everyone stepping over each other to try and be the best - not just their best, but the best. We were all on a wild goose chase. Jack was a really happy kid. He had his moments like everyone else, but both of your days were better if he made you smile. Jack had an infectious character and he wielded it well. He was the funny, chubby kid; always looking for a snack or a laugh.
What many of you don't know is that Jack made his mark at the Dojo in dodgeball before Judo. When it would get down to the last few people, a 12 year old "Hattoni" was a force to be reckoned with. He was small enough to hide behind the ball and could hang in there long enough for someone else to make a mistake. This, I believe, is where he initially found his greatest weapon: His Endurance.
As he grew he became more dedicated to Judo competitions, excelling nationally. He made various junior teams and was on his way to becoming a real player. I know family and training environments weren't healthy, and he took a lot of that on emotionally. But, he still had his endurance.
A series of life altering decisions brought Jack to success in his field. He had filled a vacuum left by his senior training partner and was being prepped to ultimately replace him. This was part of a plan bigger than him, and he was reminded of this repeatedly. The thing is, sports aren't a science - they're gambling. You have control over some odds, but when you're 100% committed, you have to take some punches on the chin. Jack went through the natural ebbs and flows of competition results. Funded, supported, and dropped by a broken system that allowed him to commit himself to a shared objective. Even through this, he endures, reaching new heights and proving himself greater.
I need to remind you that in situations like this, we must avoid blame. Yet it's just as important in these moments that we honor the sanctity of truth and bare that responsibility willingly. Jack committed his life to Judo, and had to crawl through a battle field to get there. He wasn't seen as a person, he was seen as a sport statistic. He was seen as a W or an L on a screen - as a ratio of wins to losses, a product of the prize investment of his country's program. The stability of his clubs, his country, and ultimately himself lay in the balance. Even if he accomplished his goals, it would be more of the same. Asking for what he needs and having it thrown in his face, over and over again. His chosen life? A perpetual burden.
We can do better. If this isn't a wake up call to the quality of life that many our athletes are living under, I don't know what is. You can post all the 1-800 Numbers you like, but I hope you don't think you're making a difference. This kid could have called anyone in the world for help, but he didn't want it, because he didn't think he deserved it. There wasn't anything wrong with Jack Hatton, he just couldn't endure anymore.
If you want to help, start by donating here. All proceeds go to his family and making sure he is remembered appropriately. After that, you can get involved in starting a new conversation on how we can make these lifestyles more sustainable. It isn't crazy to expect our athletes should receive some kind of emotional support when the system requirements themselves are pushing them. Real change is only going to happen through dialogue, please be a part of it.
I love you buddy, rest in peace.