Mental Health and Sports: Traversing a Developing Landscape

by Vance Farrell

Those who keep up with the ever-changing world of sports are becoming increasingly aware of the growing phenomenon taking place within the major sports leagues within the United States. More often, high profile athletes are taking sudden and, often-times, unexpected breaks throughout the season with no reason given other than mental health-related. Some of the more prominent analysts, writers, trainers, and former athletes have certainly homed in on this phenomenon and have started to speak out more about struggles they have had throughout their years within the world of sports. Some have even started to advocate for the current and former players, coaches, and personalities that have graced our television screens for decades.

Brandon Marshal, former wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, is one notable figure who has stepped out of his starring role on a morning sports talk show and has since expanded his ventures at House of Athlete, a facility designed to meet the needs of top athletes. Brandon discussed openly his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and the stigma he faced along his journey of living with his diagnosis. Due to the stigma that he has faced, Brandon has partnered with House of Athlete to promote a heightened focus on the mental health of the athlete’s training, thereby changing the way they train and implementing specific days for the athletes to work on their mental health the same way they would work to strengthen their bodies physically.

However, things were not always this progressive on this subject of mental health. Athletes who admitted to having a diagnosis or needing help would often be seen as “weak” or “unable to handle pressure,” and this could negatively impact their chances of playing at the highest levels. Now that more athletes are speaking out and advocating for their mental health needs though, leagues and teams are facing a dilemma that they have never had to manage before: weighing the mental health and well-being of their star athletes, ensuring that they are able to make profits, and keeping the fan bases happy and attending the games. Currently, these dilemmas are being played out in two of the four major sports leagues in the United States: The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL), with star athletes in both leagues starting to talk more about their mental health and starting to take breaks mid-season at a higher rate than before.

Since this is the landscape that the sports world is currently in, it brings up a great question: What happens next? The answer to that question can be answered very simply: we deal with it. Dealing with this situation starts by educating young athletes about the importance of mental health wellness as a part of maintaining physical health well-being, not as a separate facet. The connection between the mind and body is a powerful and complex relationship, but one that’s balance is essential to maintain for any person to function to their highest potential. Additionally, the NFL and NBA can and should be viewed as leaders within this process as both leagues have already been shown offering public support to their athletes during these times. Prominent sports analysts have also jumped onto this bandwagon, with many taking a supportive stance and expressing this as an avenue to have mental health concerns be treated similarly to physical injuries in the manner they are discussed and handled by all parties involved

At this time, it seems that this is a topic that will not be going away anytime soon, with leagues, teams, athletes, analysts, and the public all attempting to navigate and traverse this developing landscape as topics that were once considered to be opposites or taboo to talk about together are suddenly being discussed openly in a way not seen before. Ultimately, the first step is to talk openly about this subject as well as for people to seek out education about topics that they are not as well educated about to ensure that misinformation is not being spread. These small changes could have a lasting impact, not only on the world of sports but on how mental health is viewed in general.

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