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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

The New Faces of Mental Health in Sports

It can be easy to see the athletes we watch compete every night as impervious to the same mental ailments affecting millions of people around the country, just as Kevin Love recently told ESPN reporter Jackie Macmullan. From LeBron James’ poster dunks, Giancarlo Stanton’s mammoth home runs, or Odell Beckham’s one handed catches, these athletes appear to be superhuman. As fans we don’t recognize they go through the same mental struggles we do. Yet things are changing.

In recent weeks, players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan publicized their battles with mental health. Both players have taken to social media to shed light on the issues, and have even conducted personal interviews illuminating what they go through everyday. The two stars have quickly developed into the new faces of mental health in sports.

For Kevin Love, a panic attack changed his life. On November 5th, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers were playing the Atlanta Hawks. Early on in the game, Love was feeling far from normal. When the Cavaliers called a timeout, he had trouble catching his breath during the huddle.

Love knew something was wrong; he ran back to the training room, and collapsed to the ground. He suffered his first panic attack. In a recent interview for ESPN, Love gave a detailed description of his experience. “My heart was jumping out of my chest and I couldn’t get air to my lungs… I thought I was having a heart attack.”

Since his first panic attack, the All Star forward has made it his goal to help others who are struggling with mental health issues. He went on to publish Everything is Going Through Something on the Players Tribune and NBA players en masse responded with support. One even shared his own experience with mental illness in the league.

DeMar DeRozan coming off of one of the best years of his career. He averaged 23 points per game, was named to the All-NBA 2nd team, and led the Raptors to a franchise record 59 wins.

On February 17th, DeRozan tweeted, “This depression get the best of me.” The tweet was a quote from the lyrics in the Kevin Gates song “Tomorrow.” The tweet was quickly met with much support for the young man who seemed to be struggling.

DeRozan reminds us that even when you experience a vast majority of success as an athlete, the ups and downs of life are always present. “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” the 28 year old recently admitted.

“Everybody goes through something, success is not immune to depression.” -Kevin Love

Hearing Kevin Love, and DeMar DeRozan’s stories have lead to other athletes to focus on ways to deal with the pressures of being a professional athlete and how they can improve their mental health. Amongst those who have spoken out is Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. Since bursting onto the scene at Oklahoma, Young has had to cut out social media from his life for the sake of his mental health. “I’ve tuned out social media because that’s a place that can really bring you down.”

The reason Young’s story stands out to me is that Trae Young is still a teenager. Young was born on September 19, 1998 not even 20 years of age yet. While it is common now a days for a rookie in the NBA to still be a teenager it is often overlooked how much pressure is immediately placed on their shoulders. Top picks like Young are immediately expected to turnaround a shambled franchise, and if they don’t succeed right away they will be ridiculed on Twitter or be labeled a bust by the media. All that can understandably be overwhelming to a teenager, and is leading to young athletes like Trae Young to mute social media knowing it will help their mental health to not give the internet “trolls” their time of day.

In any sport, it can be difficult to remember these athletes are human; they dunk from the free throw line, run 4.40 40s, and tower over us alpha-male bloggers. Watching them show superhuman athleticism can disconnect fans from reality, and makes us view players more like video game pixels, instead of actual human beings. Yet thanks to Love and DeRozan, we are reminded these athletes are imperfect, multifaceted people who are vulnerable to the same struggles that everyday fans face.

-Sean

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