Pro sports unions unite to discuss importance of mental health

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Seattle Seahawks defensive end Marcus Smith (97) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tennessee.

Mark Zaleski | AP

Six of the biggest professional sports unions in the country are teaming up in May to bring attention to Mental Health Awareness Month.

The NFL Players Association, National Basketball Players Association, National Hockey League Players Association, MLB Players Association, MLS Players Association and Women’s National Basketball Players Association will work together to raise awareness about the cause and invest resources to improve mental health for the pro athlete community.

This is the first time the sports organizations have come together to promote mental health.

“‘MentalHealthisMAYnstream’ will advance the national and global conversation around mental health and wellness and relate it to the experiences of athletes at every level of competition,” a joint statement from the organizations said.

The high stakes, busy lifestyles and pressures of professional sports have caused many athletes to reveal their own mental health struggles in recent years. With the National Alliance on Mental Illness reporting 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience a mental health-related issue each year, athletes have not been exempt.

Former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Marcus Smith II even contemplated ending his life after feeling like he wasn’t living up to expectations of being a first-round draft pick.

He credited his head coach, Pete Carroll, and defensive line coach, Cliff Hurtt, for helping him find resources that ultimately saved his life.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have done what I was doing and I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Smith said last year.

Today, Smith dedicates himself to helping other players avoid reaching that breaking point.

“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” said Miami Heat power forward Kevin Love, when he revealed his own struggle with panic attacks in 2018 in The Players’ Tribune.

The Covid-19 pandemic created even more isolation for many who were already struggling.

Star Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott opened up about his depression in 2020, following the death of his brother and mother. Prescott said the isolation from Covid-19 quarantines only added to his anxiety.

“I obviously got the help that I needed and was very open about it,” he said at the time. “I think that’s why I was fortunate enough to get over it, as not all of us are.”

As athletes from all levels have expressed their struggles, many of the leagues realized that mental health needs to be as much of a priority as physical health.

This new, monthlong campaign will aim to normalize mental health through players opening up about their own struggles, in addition to the sports unions providing tips and resources from wellness experts.

The sports leagues will also highlight inspirational stories from athletes and the various mental health efforts they are leading.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in distress, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.


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