This is something I have been looking to write for a while, and after recent events this past weekend, I felt it was the right time to do so. As kids we grow up to think that professional athletes are on top of the world. We believe they live the perfect lives. Millions of kids every day go into the back yard and pretend to hit home runs like Bryce Harper or shoot 3 pointers like you are Steph Curry. Sports brings the world together. We may disagree on certain topics but people can all agree that sports are such a positive thing.
However, this idea of athletes being these super happy individuals may be doing more harm than good for our society. The expectations to live up to this narrative is causing destruction to these world class athletes. The expectations and the back-lash they get from fans is terrible for someone if they are not producing at their job.
In recent years many high profile athletes have spoken out on their struggle with mental health. Athletes who are atop of their sport, athletes we think live the perfect life. In reality they are all struggling to live up to these expectations. Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after her anxiety of speaking to the media became to much for her. When she shows up to a major or any tournament as a matter of fact, her focus should solely be on the next match not impressing the media. Who are the fans to judge if she gives an answer we don't like?
Michael Phelps the one of the most decorated Olympic Athlete has been extremely vocal and open regarding his substance abuse due to his mental health struggle. Here is an athlete that seems to win a medal every time he gets in the water struggling mentally.
These are two of the many high profile athletes that have been open regarding this. I could go on about everyone else who has been open. I hope you look up those athletes and read their messages. However, what about the athletes who are not open about their struggle? Just like DeMar DerRozan once said "No matter how indestructible we look like we are, we're all human at the end of the day."
Seeing athletes struggle so much with their mental health is hard to watch. Not only as a fan but for someone who also has similar struggles. The expectation is you are always good and life is great 24/7, but unfortunately it is not. There is stigma around this kind of struggle that you don't get with a sprained ankle. "Your healthy? You have to play we got a game today."
What people fail to see in professional athletes, is the fact they are all humans. Fans only get to see players when they buy tickets to the game or they turn the tv on to see their favorite team play. They fail to see the hours they spend at practice, watching film, and in the weight room. There are hour and hours of preparation just so the fans can watch them play for a couple of hours. On top of all of that, they are trying to balance a family life.
Hopefully by now you understand that the biggest competitor an athlete has to face is not the other team, but is the competitor we do not see. That voice inside your head. Here is what I want you to take from all of this.
When you are struggling with mental health, it can seem like the whole world is against you. You feel like the world is on your shoulders and everyone is looking for you to keep the world up. You want to be this strong fearless person, but at the end of the day you can't do it alone. You are afraid to ask for help, but don't want to come off as weak. You don't want to give into what society has forces us to believe we should be.
Athletes are human and they feel these same struggles. Their expectations are huge compared to anyone else in the professional workforce. They want to win just like the fans, but they are the ones who have to put the long hours in to accomplish that, and when they feel the pressure is to much they break.
So when fans take it to far, by throwing food at players, or their smack talk becomes personal, what are you trying to prove? Would you do this to him on the streets? Would you do that to one of your employees who made a mistake? Why do it to an athlete that owes you nothing?
This kind of struggle is the hardest battle I have ever had to face. Sometimes I feel like I am on an island and it is only at night. However, if you look at me you think I have everything going well. I wish people this simple advice. If you ever need anything, always reach out for help. Mental health is no joke, we all have our own battles, and as a society we need to come together and help pick each other up when they need it.
For athletes who are struggling. Remember you play the game for the love of the game, not the fans. It is always important to prioritize the important things in life; Family and health. You can not play sports forever, but your family is there forever. You have a life time of memories.
To the fans who may not understand any of this. For professional athletes this is their job. It is not their life. They don't play the game to win your satisfaction. They are human. How would you feel if a random customer threw a bag of popcorn on you if you make a mistake at work? Or make disrespectful comments to you if you mess up? This world has a lot of negativity right now, but sports can bring us all together.
I struggle with mental health every day. Athletes all over the world struggle with this everyday. We may not see it when we watch games or interviews, but remember they are humans just like you and I.
If you are struggling with mental health or anything, my DM's are always open. My personal goal in life is to make sure everyone around me is happier than I am. I will continue to do so. I want everyone to continue to go forward with life in a positive manner. I know sometimes it may be hard and you want to give up. Continue to take care of yourself. Find that hobby of yours and pursue it. Enjoy sports, but remember we are all human.
Finally, if you are feeling down and kind find your purpose, do one thing. Put your hand over your heart. Feel that? That's purpose.