As conversations concerning mental health become more common, and attitudes shift, the impact of athletes and their stories must not be ignored.
1. Kevin Love
Racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, lightheadedness, and difficulty breathing, this is what NBA athlete Kevin Love felt on November 5, 2018, during the middle of a game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was having a panic attack, right there on the court, in front of all the cameras. “For 29 years, I thought mental health was someone else’s problem,” said Love. Now, he knows better and has spoken out repeatedly concerning his experience, including an article in The Players Tribune. He has also invested in mental health initiatives such as Coa, a wellness gym focused on physical and mental health.
2. Naomi Osaka
High-profile tennis star Naomi Osaka garnered headlines this month as she made the decision to withdraw from the French Open, amid concerns for her mental health. The situation stemmed from media and internet pushback against Osaka’s desire to abstain from post-match media obligations, which she claims have led to mental health struggles for her. While this is unfortunate for Osaka, her actions show the athlete community that even superstars have to look after their health. Her withdrawal has opened up an even larger conversation concerning the media, the players and their mental health, and the prioritization of wellness in modern sports.
3. DeMar DeRozan
In 2018, weeks before the NBA All-Star Game, then Toronto Raptors Guard DeMar DeRozan, spoke to The Toronto Star at length concerning his struggles with depression and anxiety. DeRozan decided to come forward with his story to show others that you can be successful and still deal with mental illness. "It’s not nothing I’m against or ashamed of,” DeRozan told The Toronto Star, “We all got feelings. ... (Sometimes) it gets the best of you.” DeMar’s bravery in speaking about mental wellness has even led former teammate Fred VanVleet to say that DeMar’s story has changed the league for the better, and has encouraged more players to speak out.
4. Jesse Lingard
English Soccer Player Jesse Lingard has recently regained his form at his new club West Ham United, however for multiple seasons Lingard underwent struggles on the field, which fueled mental health struggles off the field. This year, after getting his name back in the scoring charts, Lingard detailed his experience with his mental health to The Guardian: “I was going into games happy sitting on the bench and that’s not me.” Lingard continued, “Of course, you’re going to get dragged through and there are going to be highs and lows and you might have a low point but you’ve got to find that something in you, that never give up, that attitude to go again.” Lingard’s story has shed light upon the ways that on-field performance and media criticism can lead to the decline in a player’s mental health.
5. Michael Phelps
In 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps opened up concerning his bouts with mental health, even detailing his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts in 2014. "Over those three or four days where I didn’t want to leave my room and I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I finally realized that I can ask for help and it’s okay not to be okay,” said Phelps. According to him, this moment changed his life, and led him to feel more willing to seek care and understand his mental illness. “I never asked for help really ever in my career.” said Phelps, “My struggles carried on through my career and I hid them well.” he continued. Phelps says that throughout his career people told him to push through adversity, but that mental adversity is something that must be addressed, not pushed through. Now Phelps speaks out often concerning mental health, making sure other athletes know that it is okay to not be okay.