Deep Dive: Mental Health in Sports

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Johnny Mambrino, Editor

The average sports fan is mostly concerned about how their favorite teams or players have been playing or how the players on their fantasy teams are doing but we never stop and wonder how the players we love so much are actually feeling. I feel like we sometimes think our favorite players are there to entertain us and give us a great sports experience. We always know if a certain player gets injured or is injured physically but those same individuals’ mental health is never of our concern and never really crosses our minds most of the time. Not only can the busy life of a professional athlete take a toll with the constant exercise and pain they put their bodies through but that and other things away from the game can affect those players to where they might not even be able to play.
We’ve seen in recent years certain players coming out and giving their experiences with mental health struggles and most people like myself would think how are these guys like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, who are multi-millionaires, have depression or anxiety when they have so many things in their life taken care of and they can buy whatever they want. But I feel like we need to read between the lines. They may have all these riches and opportunities but these players could be facing things that we don’t even know. About 2 years ago Kevin Love, who is a perennial all-star in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers, came out to the public with his struggles with depression and anxiety. He has even suffered from panic attacks and takes medication to help manage his anxiety and depression and has also used therapy. The main thing he mentions is how battling any mental health disorder is “unbelievably exhausting”. He went on to say “Even after all the work I’ve tried to do on myself over the last two-and-a-half years, some days are just brutal.”
Star shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, DeMar Derozan, also shared his struggles around the same time as Love. DeRozan was with the Toronto Raptors when he first released the tweet saying “This depression get the best of me…”. One of his comments on how much support he got for his tweet really stood out to me. He said “It’s one of those things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day… We all got feelings… (Sometimes) it gets the best of you, where times everything in the world’s on top of you.” DeRozan shared all of this in an interview with the Toronto Star.
Another relevant player who has shared their struggles with the media is Kyrie Irving who at one point was teammates with Kevin Love on the Cavs. It seems as though his mental psyche has changed since leaving Cleveland for Boston. He had been a very distant teammate in Boston and people didn’t know why. His stay in Brooklyn hasn’t necessarily been smooth sailing as he has had “mood swings” and with the start of this NBA season, as of January 14th, he hasn’t been with the nets for a week now saying he’s taking mental health days, but he’s been seen partying in clubs, maskless. I don’t know where to stand with Kyrie as he has definitely had his struggles but is it depression and anxiety or is it a self-inflamed ego. We’ll have to see as his leave of absence continues.
Players like Love and Derozan seem to make it more clear and have been more transparent with what they’re going through which is good because players should never have to feel like they have to keep everything inside. Kyrie has been much more confusing and it’s led to a lot of problems with his past 2 teams. That’s the other problem. Not just that players are going through these things but that they aren’t being clear with their team and at that point, it’s affecting everyone around them in a negative way. The NBA has done a great job in responding to mental health crises’ but they can’t always help if players like Kyrie are making things difficult. It’s about getting these guys to help before their depression or anxiety gets bad enough to where it starts to change the mental psyche. Once their mind has been altered and worsened it can completely ruin a players career.
It’s happened before with players in the past and it’s not worth forcing them out on the court with media pressure when we have no idea how certain players are coping with their problems or how they are even feeling in general. The NBA and other sports leagues have made significant progress in responding to mental health, but at least Kyrie Irving has shown that there is more work to be done.