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Why mental health is important to athletes – even as they work hard to win

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“Whenever you’re in a highly stressful situation, you get nervous,” she told reporters at the time. “I have to focus on my mental health and not put my mental health and well-being at risk.”

For longtime gymnastics fans, Biles’ move was somewhat unprecedented. For example, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the famous Kerri Strug broke her ankle on the bunker but continued to perform injured. Team USA won gold that year. Strug retired soon after.

Athletes are often rewarded for giving everything to their sport, regardless of the impact on mental health. Coach requires it; fans requested it.

But in recent years, a change is happening. In a new episode of “United Shades of America,” which airs Sunday on CNN, host W. Kamau Bell digs into the intense pressures faced by some of the country’s beloved athletes – and the real mental health cost of winning.

Athletes are seen as entertainers rather than people

Biles’ withdrawal is one of the most famous cases of an athlete speaking out about their mental health, but she’s not the only one to do so.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka has been open about her struggles with depression, going so far as to withdraw from the French Open in 2021. This year, Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons says he’s “had some dark times” in his noble feud with his former team the Philadelphia 76ers. And at the Winter Olympics in Beijing this February, athletes from many sports spoke out about pressures that athletes face.
“I feel it’s a game-changer,” skier Anna Gasser told the New York Times, about Biles’ withdrawal in Tokyo the previous year. “The message from Simone Biles is that we’re more than just athletes – that we’re humans, not robots.”

But that message doesn’t always exist in the past. Especially when considering how much money athletes make, there can be a tendency to pressure sports stars to perform no matter the price.

Renée Graham, a journalist and editor for the Boston Globe, told Bell: “(There is) the idea that your health is inappropriate. “Your job is to be a showhorse and go out there and entertain people, and you make a lot of money doing that. That ugliness is inseparable from professional sports. “

Strug, the gymnast who broke her ankle at the 1996 Olympics, told her coach – Bela Karolyi – that she wasn’t sure she could do the stunt because of her injury. me. But Karolyi said she could, in a move that at the time was considered good coaching, Bell said.

Kerri Strug of the United States was carried by coach Bela Karolyi during the team competition of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games Women's Gymnastics events held on July 23, 1996 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Since then, there have been numerous reports and allegations of Karolyi physically and verbally abusing women he trains. In response, Karolyi used to speak: “My gymnasts are the best prepared in the world, and they win. That’s all that matters.”

Racism can increase mental health pressures

For athletes of color, racism can make mental health problems even worse because they also have to deal with all the typical challenges of their profession.

“Too many times we think about things like ‘this is this’,” said Kristi Oshiro, an assistant professor at Belmont University who has studied racism and its impact on athletes. racism’ and ‘this is mental health’. “But in reality, it’s really complicated and they inform each other.”

Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, faced racist abuse from tennis fans in 2001, during a final against Kim Clijsters at Indian Wells. Although Williams, just 19 at the time, won the match, she refused to play the tournament again until 2015.

“It’s hard for me to forget the hours I cried in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as though I had lost the biggest game ever. – not a mere tennis match but a bigger fight for equality,” said Williams about her return. “Emotionally, it seems easier to stay away from.”

The impact of the intersection of racism and mental health, Oshiro says, exists at every level of play. However, with professional athletes, the tension can be more intense.

“For professional athletes, it’s a little bit different and different because they are expected to compete and consistently perform at this extremely elite level of competition, all open or vulnerable to criticism from people around the world,” she said.

Kim Clijsters, right, and Serena Williams pose with their trophies after the game at Indian Wells Tennis Gardens in Indian Wells, California.

And in the age of the internet, that criticism can come from anywhere – in person and online.

Grant Williams is an NBA player for the Boston Celtics. He pays attention to all the comments he receives from fans, he told Bell, especially if they are racist.

“It’s hard not to notice it,” Williams said.

With more and more athletes speaking out about the mental health pressures of their sport, their stories are more diverse. From Biles and Osaka to the NBA’s Kevin Love and former college volleyball player Victoria Garrick – athletes of all ages, races and sports have been open about their mental health struggles. them, highlighting the ways in which these problems can manifest.

Oshiro himself is a former college athlete who played softball at East Carolina University. In the last 10 years alone, she says, have conversations about mental health progressed for the better.

“When I was playing in college, we lacked not only the resources involved, but also the awareness and the language to describe the mental health struggles or even the racism that we faced. we suffered at the time,” she said. “It’s like you know you’re going through some thing, but you don’t know it could be depression or anxiety.”

Randy Moss, NFL Hall of Fame, Begins shared on ESPN last year while discussing a racist email sent by former NFL coach Jon Gruden. At the time, some football fans called Moss “soft” for letting his emotions show.

To make a lasting change around athletes’ mental health perceptions, Oshiro says, everyone involved should rethink the way they think and talk about athletes – from fans to athletes. related parties. Even organizations can do a better job of clearly not tolerating the racism often imposed on athletes of color.

But that’s not all that can be done. Access to mental health resources is also important, says Oshiro.

“When you consider how much is available to an athlete’s physical health – training facilities, gyms, etc – there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure it’s good for mental health as well. , ” she speaks.

And if we can’t take care of both their physical and mental health, as Bell noted in Sunday’s episode, then we probably don’t deserve to be athletes at all.

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Teja
Teja
I am passionate about journalism and using new technology to spread news. I am also interested in politics and economics, and I am always looking for ways to make a difference in the world. I am the CEO of Janaseva News, and I am 24 years old.

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