Mental Health
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

Mental Health Stigma Athletes Face In The Sports World

On May 31, Naomi Osaka, a Japanese tennis player notoriously withdrew from the French Open. She announced her decision on social media, a day after she was fined $15,000 for refusing to speak with media at a press conference during the French Open. In her statement, she said the reason she decided to withdraw from the French Open was to prioritize her mental health. Naomi Osaka along with a few other well-known athletes are creating conversations around the mental health stigma athletes face in the sports world whether people are ready to have this conversation or not.

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In her social media post, Naomi Osaka said

Piers Morgan, former British television anchor for “Good Morning Britain” is known for making insensitive comments on celebrity women’s mental health. He first made comments when Meghan Markle stated how she was suicidal while carrying her son, Archie, and now he is commenting on Osaka’s social media post.

“an arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions. How else to explain her extraordinary decision to announce she will no longer participate in media press conferences, supposedly to protect her mental health?” Morgan said.

While some sports fans and commentators argue that Osaka didn’t go about skipping the press conference and correctly withdrawing from the French Open, she did what she needed to do to protect her mental health. Also for her to be one of the best, well-known women tennis players in the world at only 23 years old and to be at her prime at the beginning of her career to withdrawing from the French Open, is a huge deal. She may not have a great comeback when she decides to play again. But she removed herself from a situation that was diminishing her mental health and that took courage for her to do.

Osaka explaining how she has felt over the years and how she has tried to make adjustments to reduce her depression and social anxiety to still perform her best, shows fans and the media that athletes are regular, normal people and have mental health issues like anyone else.

Piers Morgan’s insensitive comments and not taking the time to understand Osaka’s decision to prioritize her mental health is why athletes still face this stigma today.

Aside from Osaka providing the world with the experiences she has faced, athletes such as Dak Prescott, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, and Kevin Love, power forward and center for the Cleveland Cavaliers have been open about their struggles with mental health and continue to promote conversations to help athletes and others involved in sports to end the stigma.

Dak Prescott first publicly talked about his experiences last year after losing his mother and brother within three months. On May 28, Prescott talked with Sage Steele, a SportsCenter anchor about his grief while he suffered the loss of his brother and how talking about mental health is the most important aspect to help spread awareness.

“I told my friends and family that was around that day, guys, we gotta talk. We gotta talk to one another because I didn’t know he was feeling that way. I even tried to be vulnerable to them. But that’s it. It’s not easy. And that’s why I come out in front of mental health awareness and tell people. Men, women, powerful not powerful, whatever you are. We gotta talk and it’s an obligation for all of us to listen and to help.” Prescott said.

The younger generation of athletes across sports is spreading awareness for mental health which is very important since this topic isn’t brought up as often as it should. Whether an athlete plays football, basketball, tennis, hockey, gymnastics, or volleyball; every athlete and person involved in sports should normalize talking about mental health and actively work towards ending the stigma.

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