Mental health in sports is no joke

By Matthew Rutherford
March 14, 2022

“Ginástica Artística – Final individual feminino – Simone Biles/EUA – Medalha de Ouro” by Secretaria Especial do Esporte is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
“Ginástica Artística – Final individual feminino – Simone Biles/EUA – Medalha de Ouro” by Secretaria Especial do Esporte is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Imagine being a professional athlete getting ready to compete in the largest sporting event in your life. The mental stress is getting to you too much, preventing you from competing.

Not competing doesn’t shed the stress. In fact, the criticism for sitting out only increases the pressure.

Simone Biles dealt with this in the Olympics just last year. She was being called a quitter all over the place. Biles was no quitter; she was able to come back to the Olympics and win a couple of medals.

Ginástica Artística - Final individual feminino - Simone Biles/EUA - Medalha de Ouro
“Ginástica Artística – Final individual feminino – Simone Biles/EUA – Medalha de Ouro” by Secretaria Especial do Esporte is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Biles withdrew from the team final, the all-around and the individual vault, floor and uneven bars event finals in the 2021 Summer Olympics.

Why are the people who called Biles a quitter angry? Most of her critics could never handle the criticism as well as she did.

It was the same deal with Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka. This left her too nervous to even talk to the press after she had pulled out of the 2021 French Open.

Naomi Osaka
“Naomi Osaka” by Carine06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Biles and Osaka are pioneers for mental health in sports. Not many people thought about the mental health of athletes until the two ladies put it on the national stage.

Mental health is a topic that is not talked about nearly as much as it should be.

All the glamour that comes with being a professional athlete comes with many downsides, including shouldering some of the worst criticism in a public spotlight. Some people such as Piers Morgan think that mental health is just an excuse for athletes who perform poorly.

This false thinking just disrespects people who have mental health issues. These are tough issues for people to talk about, especially if they are suffering from an illness. The people who say that there is a problem with people sitting out because of mental health are the problem. The types of people with these types of thoughts must have never experienced a mental health crisis.

People make jokes about athletes’ mental health all the time. Take Ben Simmons for example – the jury is still out on whether Simmons sat out because of mental health issues or whether he just didn’t want to play for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Simmons had blamed mental health reasons for sitting out. Many people believe that Simmons was faking it so that he could  be traded to another team.

Many people have called Simmons out once he was traded. He was able to join his new team, the Brooklyn Nets, the next day on a road trip. He was not anywhere near the 76ers for months before the trade.

If Simmons does not have any mental issues, then shame on him. This would only give critics like Morgan more ammunition for his view on mental health. Athletes’ hesitancy to confront mental health is a wall that is in the process of being torn down, but it is not down quite yet, and it could still take years to do.

Ben Simmons
“Ben Simmons” by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If Simmons actually has mental health problems, then shame on everyone who called him a liar. This only shows us how far away we really are from taking a professional’s mental state seriously.

Although we may see them as immortal or infallible at times, at the end of the day, athletes are people just like the rest of us. They experience emotions the same as you and me.

Next time you hear of an athlete experiencing a mental health episode, don’t think of it as a joke.

You wouldn’t want to be laughed at if you were suffering from anxiety , so why do the same to others?

Matthew Rutherford

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