Monday, November 29, 2021

The strength in revealing mental health struggles.

November 14, 2021 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Sports, Weekly Columns

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( One of the notable inactive players during the National Football League’s Week 8 games was Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The Falcons star is one of the best and most important members of his team and surprisingly did not play in the team’s loss to the Carolina Panthers on Halloween. It was that day that Ridley publicly announced on Twitter that he would be stepping away from the game of football to focus on his mental wellbeing. The same day, Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson, also one of the best players on his respective team, sat down with NFL reporter Jay Glazer on “FOX NFL Sunday” to discuss the mental-health challenges he has faced both on and off the field. Johnson said he was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms after he stopped taking an SSRI medication, a type of antidepressant that works by increasing levels of serotonin within the brain. Johnson also opened up about the challenges he faces in his battle with depression and anxiety. These admissions by Ridley and Johnson gave the usual NFL Sunday a different feel to it that has more meaning beyond touchdowns and wins.

There are several studies that indicate that women are more open and more likely than men to seek mental health help. In the wild, invasive world of professional sports this has also played out in discussions around mental health this year. Tennis star Naomi Osaka has been extremely candid and open about her mental health challenges that have come as result of her interactions with the media and the incredible fame she has gotten over the past few years. Osaka’s French Open media experience this year was unpleasant and she withdrew from one of the biggest tennis tournaments of the year.


Her decision was supported by fellow professional tennis player Sloane Stephens, who spoke of the importance of taking care of your mental health after winning her third-round match at the 2021 French Open. One of the stories of the Tokyo Olympics this year was gymnastics great Simone Biles’s withdrawal from the Olympic women’s gymnastics team final due to numerous things she was battling. It is very important to note that all three women dealing with these mental health discussions and issues are women of color in a world where being a woman and non-white is doubly challenging, even for professional athletes.

The openness of Calvin Ridley and Lane Johnson in the NFL was important as well. In recent years, the NBA has done a credible job of highlighting the importance of mental health among men and it takes a stand in a league where the talent is predominantly Black. Being an NFL player is among the most grueling and physically demanding professions in America and takes a certain amount of mental and physical toughness to even get to the NFL in the first place. The National Football League has failed in a lot of ways to take care of its players with controversies regarding concussions and how many retired football players often mentally struggle with the physical pain from the high-impact collisions of their sport.

This year, the NFL has run public campaigns around mental health including TV ads but Calvin Ridley’s decision speaks as loud or louder than any public service announcement. On his Twitter page, Ridley said, “These past few weeks have been very challenging and as much as I’d like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing”. The stigma around Black men and all men taking care of their mental health is being destroyed with every public admittance of struggle.

Staff Writer; Mark Hines

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