Athletes are often placed on a pedestal and viewed as role models and mentors. If you ask my son, or many young athletes what their dream job would be, many of them would tell you that they would love to play in the NBA, NFL or any other professional sports league.
Fans are often upset when their favorite player can’t play in a game due to physical injuries beyond his or her control. Teams are all about spending the money on the doctor, physical therapist and/or other treatment to get that player back on the field or court. But what about mental health? Do people think that professional athletes are exempt from mental illness or do they just not care because it is less likely to interfere with an athlete’s ability to perform (or so they think)? You don’t hear players announcing to the world that they have to sit out a game or two because his or her bipolar illness or anxiety is “acting up.” At least not until recently.
Over the past couple of months, Houston Rocket’s basketball player, Royce White, has joined his peer Metta World Peace, in sharing with the world that he is an individual who is living with a diagnosed mental health condition. I started thinking: if one in four adults has or will experience a mental health condition at some time in his or her lifetime, how do those numbers play out when it comes to a professional sports team?
So I did a little research just testing these numbers on my favorite sports league - the NBA. There are 30 teams in the NBA. Each team has anywhere from 12 to 15 players per team, making the number of players in the NBA range from 360 to 450 players each year. I’m sure by now you can guess where I’m going with this. That means that at any given time anywhere between 90 to 112 players in the NBA may be experiencing a mental illness.
Professional athletes (who are human by the way) are not exempt from a mental illness. As a society, we need to recognize that individuals who have been blessed with athletic abilities are just like the rest of us. One in four, remember? So what are professional leagues doing to make sure that they have qualified mental health professionals and adequate resources available to support the mental wellness of its players? What accommodations are being made to support these talented athletes in meeting their mental health needs?
I commend Royce White, Metta World Peace and others who, in spite of the stigma associated with having a mental illness, are advocating for what is right. Thank you for using your time in the spotlight to shed light on a topic that will do more than win games. Your boldness will change and possibly save lives.
How many of you out there will stand bold with these role models and support their efforts to have mental health recognized as a key part of an athlete’s ability to perform?