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Archive for May 2, 2022

May 2, 2022 — A mental health klaxon

In the last few months, at least five Division I collegiate athletes — Stanford soccer goalie Katie Meyer, Northern Michigan track athlete Jayden Hill, SUNY-Binghamton lacrosse player Robert Martin, Wisconsin cross-country runner Sarah Schulze, and James Madison softball catcher Lauren Bernett have all taken their own lives. It’s gotten to the point where JMU, a team which made last year’s College World Series, decided to end their season.

Now, I said “at least” in the first paragraph above because the stigma surrounding suicide has often led to the suppression of news about it, especially in close-knit communities like high schools and colleges.

But especially since the summer of 2021, when the mental health of athletes became a prime concern in both amateur and professional sports worldwide, the first instinct has, instead, been to publicize anti-suicide hotlines and websites at the end of news stories. I’ve even seen these kinds of PSAs on ESPN in between loud hot-takes and betting-line information.

To me, the publicizing of solutions after the fact misses the entire point of preventative mental health in sports — especially scholastic sports, where outsized pressure is often put on 17- and 18-year-olds to work the miracles of professional players at the next level.

Such pressures have not yielded the best results for high-school athletes I have covered. I have seen players flunk out of college, others being benched for a lack of performance, and still others fall by the wayside due to injury.

I have seen school programs develop positive cultures, but I have seen numerous others develop negative and sometimes toxic interactions between themselves and other students on campus. I seem to recall that one incident nine years ago involving three field hockey student-athletes who assaulted a peer at a party. The incident cost the team a chance to play for a national title.

The world of U-21 sport — from Little League to the NCAA — has been rife with scandals for years. There has been point-shaving in college basketball, allegations of misconduct when it comes to the usage of the current transfer portal, falsification of records in youth baseball which has affected several championship-level teams, child sexual abuse in scholastic sports, and abuses by team doctors at several U.S. colleges. It is, frankly, a cesspool.

This kind of behavior, regrettably, has spread to professional sports, to the point where 90 percent of pro women’s soccer teams in the United States saw a regime change in the last year or so because of some sort of misconduct on the part of a coach, owner, or general manager.

Too, there have been exposed drug cheating on the part of individuals in the BALCO scandal, namely Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Lance Armstrong. There have also been whole teams which have been involved in widespread cheating, such as the Houston Astros (sign-stealing), the New England Patriots (electronic spying and deflating of footballs), and the Manchester City football club (skirting salary rules).

I guess, as more and more money is swirling around sports today, the old NASCAR saying comes to mind: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

And for the average young athlete, it’s a hard reality to grasp. No wonder these young people feel such pressure to succeed at the same time their idealistic dreams have been shattered in a cauldron of deception. It’s hard to maintain your mental health in such an atmosphere.