mental health

Larry Sanders, Professional Sports, and Mental Health

(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

During my university days, I once opened up to a professor about feeling depressed and anxious, and completely stressed out – what we call mental health issues. She responded by saying “the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself.” I can’t tell you how much those words helped. Just knowing that in the middle of academia, with its own unique and unrelenting versions of pressure and stress, that this person listened and shared her own war stories. That I wasn’t alone was the only thing that helped. That was 6 years ago, and I was an undergraduate student having a series of never-ending shitty days.

We are all built differently, but with the same parts.

Larry Sanders, formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) recently opened up about what makes him who he is, and about the man behind the facade of lights, contractually-obliges censorship, one can easily become a series of canned one-liners. We all know the standard monotone-laden snippets: I just need to do better for my team/I just gotta keep getting better and better/we have to play hard for 48 minutes/etc. It’s a shock to that system when one of the proletariat changes course – in this case a very well-salaried proletariat, but I digress. Speaking out about voluntarily attending a program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders is not an easy thing to do, especially in the spotlight of the greatest stage in his field.

Professional athletes are supposed to entertain us, take us away from our day-to-day lives, and gIve us a place to project all of our shit and anger and hopes and of course money. They’re not supposed to feel, to hurt, and if they do, they’re supposed to suck it up and get on with the show. They don’t get paid to feel. They get paid to win. This is why they’re paid incredulous salaries. This whole mountain of pressure falls on their shoulders to perform, even when they are having a shitty day. Let’s face it, we all have them. So why are athletes different?

Everyone’s come up with their own theories about why I’ve been absent since leaving the Bucks. I knew people would speculate, but the crazy thing to me is that people are making it about the money. As a person who grew up with nothing, I know money is important. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to play in the NBA. But at the same time, that’s not what fuels me. I’ve never chased money. It’s never been how I define success. Happiness isn’t behind a golden gate. – Larry Sanders, The Players’ Tribune.

For anyone that has dealt with similar issues, no amount of money can make it right.

See the entire video here:

Can we relate to Sanders?

He is not the first member of the NBA to have struggled with these issues, and he certainly won’t be the last. I’m certain that many are suffering right now, but functionally need to rationalize within themselves that maintaining the status quo is the better decision (versus going public). Families to feed, etc. This goes for the NHL, NFL, and all other professional sports leagues, and hell, for life generally. I know first-hand what it feels like to admit the problem, having myself dealt with similar issues of anxiety and depression. It’s no easy feat – let alone when the pressures of big sports and/or real life compound what you’re feeling.

Without these things [mental wellness] being corrected, I don’t think basketball would be something that I could do – Larry Sanders, Bucks.comTV, January 6, 2015

This statement applies to life. Just replace basketball with whatever it is that you do in your life.

I’m curious to know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Drop a line below.