Mental health awareness has started to make waves the last few years in professional sports. Just earlier this year, Simone Biles – the greatest gymnast of all time – chose to withdraw from the team final competition at the Olympics, citing that she needed to focus on her mental health. Similarly, Naomi Osaka – the highest paid female athlete in the world – quit the French Open this year in order to spend time away from the tennis court to take care of herself mentally.
Other professional athletes are utilizing their high-profile platform to address the importance of mental health care, such as NBA-star Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yet, there are still many stigmas associated with professional athletes seeking help, especially within the NFL.
Perhaps the reason why the NFL has lagged behind other professional sports organizations in acknowledging and prioritizing mental health care is because of the emphasis on “masculinity” present in a sport full of tough, seemingly-invincible men. Players have referenced the expectation of just toughing it out or playing through the pain when dealing with physical injuries as well as those related to mental health.
There is little room for mindfulness and healthy mental and emotional health practices when the focus is on perfect performance and unrivaled physical prowess. Fortunately, the NFL is making room for mental health to be integrated in team dynamics and player resources.
The Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee was put into action by the NFL in May 2019, and since then at least seven teams have brought on a clinician full-time as a resource for players to find mental and emotional care alongside physical care.
Other sports-related media is incorporating mental health in their content, such as the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, which chronicles the life of a former-American football coach who is hired to manage a soccer club in the U.K. In the second season of the show, the team employs a psychologist, and the resulting stories and narrative framing of the importance of mental health care further compliments the real-life prioritization of mindfulness in professional sports as well as regular life.
Prioritizing mental health care in professional sports (one of the most paid-attention-to industries in America) reduces the stigmas surrounding mental health and seeking care. There is still a lot of work to reach full integration into American society and lifestyles, but this is a step in the right direction.
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