Start valuing mental health in sports

Throughout the pandemic, public figures such as tennis player Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles opened up about their mental health.

Osaka announced at the French Open that she would not be speaking to reporters in order to protect her mental health. Two months later, Biles withdrew from a majority of her events at the Summer Olympics to protect her mental well-being. Commenters responded negatively to both athletes. Spectators should change the way they respond to athletes as their responses are harmful to everyone, not just athletes.

Online discourse around athletes taking care of themselves needs to change because it can worsen the stigma around mental health. Journalists Travis Clay and Megyn Kelly claimed on Twitter that Osaka did not have social anxiety. These tweets support the myth that people lie about their mental health issues. Since journalists have a large impact on society’s views, as a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) article said, Travis and Kelly’s tweets will impact how people see people with mental health struggles and how these individuals see themselves. 

Online commenters should react less negatively to athletes taking breaks as it makes it more difficult for other people suffering from difficulties with mental health to take breaks. According to Forbes, a study conducted during the pandemic showed that about half of all U.S. workers struggled with their mental health during the pandemic. However, 62 percent of U.S. workers believe that their bosses would judge them for taking a mental health break and 57 percent believe that their mental wellbeing isn’t important enough to take a day off for. When Biles withdrew from her events to take a mental break, people on the internet called her a softie and a quitter. These comments strengthened peoples’ beliefs that they will be judged for taking a break and that their mental health is not important. If Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, isn’t allowed to take breaks, who can? 

People believe that it is okay to criticize athletes for taking care of their health as they think that athletes should be strong enough to overcome their struggles and compete; however, athletes should not have this unfair expectation. As the LA Times states, people need to start seeing athletes as humans first and athletes second. Spectators need to stop seeing athletes only as people who accomplish incredible physical feats and start seeing them as human beings who struggle with the same issues as everyone else, but happen to be more gifted at serving a tennis ball or flying through a vault. If athletes are given this grace and support, it will provide an example to others that it is okay to struggle with their mental health and that they will be supported. 

When public figures and commenters criticize professional athletes for speaking about their mental health, they may unknowingly harm others who struggle with their mental health. The next time that an athlete decides to open up about their mental health, everyone, including students at Irvine High, should be a part of lifting them up instead of breaking them down. 

If you are struggling with your mental health, please contact these resources or speak to any of the counselors at Irvine High School. 

(240)-485-1001- Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

(800)-273-8255- The Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

Text HOME to 741741- Crisis Text Line