Editor's note: Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Isaac Rochell fell into a social media funk many of us can relate to. He found himself consumed by his accounts and missing out on the things right in front of him. He calls it "an unhealthy relationship with my phone." So he decided to do something about it. Rochell has championed the cause #SeeYouOnSunday, a movement urging social media users to put down their phones on Saturdays and go enjoy life. He penned a letter to ESPN through Chargers reporter Eric Williams to promote this cause.
Like most people in their freshman year of high school in McDonough, Georgia, I was a skinny, awkward ninth grader caught in the hormonal haze. My social life was simple enough, and my digital interactions were even more simple -- an occasionally used flip phone and a newly created Facebook account with fewer than 100 friends. But as I grew older, so, too, did the world of social media.
Early on, I struggled to navigate the social media landscape, mostly because not much mattered to me outside of my small, Georgia hometown. When I did use social media, I did it in a very authentic manner. It was an opportunity to showcase who I was, not caring about how I was perceived by my digital peers. My time on Facebook was less about propagandizing myself and more about connecting with my friends and recapping the daily “dramas” of McDonough high school life. This felt simple, fun and light-hearted. At no point did I feel my mental well-being shrinking or my valuable time being wasted. This era of social media was one that wasn't accompanied by filters or smartphones. This social media era allowed the majority of my life to be occupied by school, friends and the idea that I would be the next great NBA player.
But as I matured, my basketball aspirations slowly faded while my football career flourished. Because of this, I became a more active user on social media. This was a pivotal part of my recruitment and football career because the rules for communication with recruits changed, making Facebook the main form of communication between coaches and athletes. College coaches came to my high school, day after day, and they all had one parting request: to add them on Facebook. This drew me in, and I found myself checking and waiting for the next message from a coach.
As my football career grew, so, too, did social media. I created other platforms, moving on from just the standard Facebook page to Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and more. By my senior year, I had four social media platforms, and my focus on them grew. Meaningless scrolls and goofy posts became less intriguing to me -- suddenly, I was solely concerned with my aesthetic. Suddenly, my self-worth was contingent on how I was perceived online. Fast-forward through the recruiting process -- on signing day, I chose to continue my career by playing at the University of Notre Dame. I remember the desperate need to immediately post a picture to all of my channels to announce my signing. I wanted the attention, the fame and the “clout.” I knew the Notre Dame community would love to see this picture and would also give me a “double tap,” so I showed them. Unknowingly, this decision furthered my need to be revered by others. No longer was I concerned about how I was perceived by McDonough, Georgia. I wanted the whole world to “like” Isaac Rochell.
After arriving at Notre Dame, I began experiencing a new sort of stress -- one different from the stress I experienced throughout my high school years. It was a stress that was often accompanied by anxiety and jealousy. I wondered why and from where this new stress came. I figured it couldn't possibly be from playing in front of 80,000 fans for a prestigious program -- I grew up dreaming of that, how could I be experiencing anything other than joy at seeing my dreams come to fruition? How could the pinnacle of my athletic career equal emotional distress? I struggled with this thought for a while until I watched a video by public activist Prince Ea called "Can we auto-correct humanity?” In this video, Prince discussed “how these touch screens make us lose touch" and how social media platforms are actually “antisocial networks.” I asked myself, “Am I missing what is right in front of me by not looking up?”
From then on, I began to observe the day-to-day relationship I had with my phone. I'd wonder this as I threw a "like" at one post or gave my friend's story a comment or sent my old teammates a few DMs. I realized I was inherently doing these things, without even thinking. I found myself unsure of what is actually important and what needs to be "left on read." This contemplation seemed to be going on every minute of every hour of my days. As my college career ended and another dream came true -- being drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers and joining the NFL -- this indulgent social media use only got worse. As a professional athlete, you learn one thing quickly: You will always be highly scrutinized by fans on social media, and there is an accompanying expectation for you to be perfect. An athlete might post a picture-perfect highlight reel of their life on and off the field to Instagram, but they are encountering and dealing with the same challenging emotions that any other user, or human, feels. Jealousy, anxiety, sadness, anger -- no matter how picturesque our lives might look, athletes deal with these emotions just like anyone else.
I knew social media was beneficial for connecting with friends, fans and family, but I had slipped into an unhealthy relationship with my phone. I fell into the temptation of comparing myself to others when I saw their "perfect lives" as displayed on social media. I also found myself basing my worth on how many likes I received on a post. Lastly, and perhaps the most frightening, I noticed myself at dinner with my closest friends spending most of the time not talking to them, but scrolling a news feed. Something needed to change.
This journey took me to a phone call with my agency in which I explained that my 6,000 followers (at the time) would surely go on about their lives without needing to see my "highlight-reel" photos. My agency kindly dissuaded me from making this decision, explaining the personal-branding opportunities and how opportunities to wield social media for good remained. I told myself that if they wanted me to keep going, then I would simply go full send, as millennials say. From here on, my platform would truly display my passions and educate users on the impact these apps are having on our lives
A year following this conversation with my agency, I am fully involved in the #SeeYouOnSunday movement. The movement's purpose is to start the conversation about what it means to be healthy on social media.
Social media is one of the most time-consuming things we do and -- as with any time-consuming activity -- we must discuss the health risks and benefits. I would never play football days on end. Instead, every six days, I take a day off. I view social media the same way, and we are inviting social media users to take Saturday's off. #SeeYouOnSunday invites participants to embrace newfound or existing hobbies, engage with peers or do something for themselves on Saturday. Make Saturdays your own.
There are nearly 3.5 billion social media users, most of whom log on every day. What would it look like to log out once a week? How much different would our communities look? How much better would our relationships look? How much better would we know ourselves? Join us in logging out on Saturdays to make a difference. Follow the @see.you.on.sunday Instagram, check out seeyouonsunday.com, and follow what we are doing. I invite you to recognize that nobody is unaffected by social media. Not children, adults, teens and not even an NFL football player.