Skilled athletes rating points with fans by revealing their mental health problems

On June 5, 2024, the Boston Red Sox signed relief pitcher Chris Martin on the 15-day injured list. It wasn't due to a sore shoulder, a strained elbow, or a pulled groin.

It was against fear.

In the past, the MLB injury list was used for players with physical injuriesWhen players missed time attributable to mental illnessThe explanation given to the media and the general public was often deliberately vague: “personal reasons”.

As players spoke about their problems, many reporters and fans criticized or questioned these diagnoses. In 2009, the New York Times published an article quoting a psychiatrist who doubted that an expert baseball player could suffer from social anxiety disorder.

“In baseball, you miss most of the time and sometimes you make mistakes. You learn to deal with it.” The psychiatrist told the newspaper“A person with social anxiety disorder would never have played in the first place.”

Loads has modified since 2009. The focus is increasingly on providing skilled athletes with access to psychological support.

The NBA launched its Mind Health Program in 2018, which requires every team to licensed psychologist available for players and staff. The NFL also requires teams to employ a behavioral therapist who has a minimum of twice per week.

But what do the fans think? Are athletes with mental health problems seen as weak? Do they develop into less likeable?

In a series of studiesMy colleagues and I checked out how fans reacted to athletes who spoke about their mental health issues and even about missing time due to them.

Expectations of mental “strength”

Although progress has been made lately, YearsMany people still find it difficult to speak about their mental health problems within the workplace.

According to a 2022 global survey58% of respondents said they felt uncomfortable discussing their mental health issues at work. Many of them fear be punished for his or her fights.

In sports the situation may be even worse.

Top athletes experience a higher prevalence of mental health problems than the final population, exacerbated by a sports culture that emphasizes mental toughness. Regular treatment for physical injuries is seen as a part of the job. But looking for help for mental health problems may be Signs of weakness.

This cultural stigma prevents athletes from talking about their mental health. Some of them may fear rejection or disbelief from their teammates and fans. Others may fear losing sponsorship opportunities or major contracts. Lack of data in the sector of mental health for a lot of athletes and coaches also represents a further barrier.

But the story is slowly changing, thanks partially to distinguished athletes reminiscent of Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Oh, Wilson And Michael Phelps who’ve gone public with their mental health issues lately. Their stories, shared in mainstream media and sports networks, have helped the general public realize that these admired athletes are only as vulnerable to mental illness as anyone else.

A turning point

A decisive moment got here when tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open 2021 for mental health reasons.

Organizer of Grand Slam tournaments Osaka had imposed a tremendous and threatened She threatened her with disqualification and future bans if she didn’t fulfill her media obligations, which ultimately led Osaka to withdraw from the tournament.

The decision sparked a heated debate. Various media and fans criticizes Osakaand argued that carrying out her media duties as an expert athlete was a part of her job.

However, some well-known personalities, including Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova, praised her for prioritizing her mental health. Nike, one in all her foremost sponsors, publicly supported her decision and stood by her throughout the controversy.

In a study from 2022we analyzed the general public's reactions on social media to Osaka's actions. On Twitter – now often known as X – we were surprised to seek out a wave of support: 51% of all posts and replies welcomed her decision. Only 19% expressed negative feelings, while the remaining 30% were neutral.

Young woman swinging tennis racket.
Naomi Osaka has withdrawn her participation within the 2021 French Open attributable to mental health problems.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Osaka was introduced later on the quilt of Time magazine – not because she had won one other Grand Slam tournament, but because she had sparked wider discussions about mental health in sport. Later that summer, gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the ladies's team gymnastics final on the Tokyo Olympics. for psychological reasons.

Osaka's actions also led to changes within the league's leadership. The Grand Slam committee, which had fined her for missing a press conference throughout the 2021 French Open, continued to commit to addressing the mental health problems with players.

Humanize athletes

In our latest studywe wanted to analyze how fans perceive athletes who speak about mental health issues versus those that speak about their physical injuries.

Is there any truth to the stigma that some athletes and coaches fear?

We presented 255 participants living within the United States with two scenarios. In one, an athlete took a break attributable to mental health issues. In the opposite, the athlete took a break to get better from a physical injury.

The only difference between the conditions was the explanation for the athlete's absence. Respondents were randomly assigned to one in all two conditions. After reading their assigned scenario, they indicated how much warmth they felt toward the athlete and the extent to which they thought he was competent.

According to our findings, fears of backlash are largely unfounded.

In fact, study participants felt more warmth toward athletes with mental illnesses and thought of them to be just as capable as athletes who struggled with physical injuries.

In other words, fans appear to value athletes who initiate these difficult conversations and prioritize their mental well-being. And as for players who fear losing sponsorship deals for making their mental health issues public, fans are likely to perceive them as more likable and approachable, which increases their appeal as brand ambassadors.

That's exactly what happened to Chris Martin.

Fans, teammates and media were generally supportive of the club. The club’s manager, Alex Cora, applauded Martin for his openness about his struggles, in addition to Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow.

It is obvious to me that the tide is popping. Athletes not must suffer in silence.

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