“Need further evidence that sports reflects societal cleavages? As indignation over single fatherhood reached a fervent pitch, Sports Illustrated released its infamous “Where’s Daddy?” cover chastening high-profile athletes. As the gay marriage debate raged across America, openly gay Michael Sam sought a roster spot in the hyper-masculine NFL. Spanning the Vietnam War to gender equity, professional sports has precipitated societal trends and, arguably, policy reforms.
The exception: mental health. On mental health reform and awareness, the four professional sports leagues have adopted a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach. Roger Goodell, the NFL’s powerful commissioner, has expressed more concern about protecting the NFL shield than employees’ mental health. When the topic is broached among players, they are more guarded than Bill Belichick during a press conference. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is one of the few professional athletes to divulge his mental health struggles. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, he has partnered with the Project 375 Foundation, a mental health advocacy organization. Marshall has chided the NFL for its inaction.
Here’s the irony: In the extremely competitive sports world, professional athletes employ sports psychologists to prepare for high-pressure contests. When an athlete visits a sports psychologist to “get his mind right,” isn’t this a natural segue to discuss anxiety and strategies to manage it? Think of how many kids are plagued with mental health issues and the impact a sports superstar would have. The opportunity for a high-profile athlete to fill the mental health void is there. He (or she) would earn media plaudits, endorsements, and public admiration. The time is yesterday.”
It is interesting. Athletes use sports psychologists all the time. There have been TV series about it. But how many are willing to openly talk about mental health issues? There are a few in recent years, but not many. Even then, most of those have been ex-athletes talking about the effects of head trauma. There seems to be a bit less stigma about that than just coming forward and talking about depression, despite the fact that many, many people deal with it at some point.
Here’s hoping more people all over become willing to talk about it.