Looking back on 2021, there are many compelling storylines in sports. The ongoing struggle to compete amidst a pandemic is a compelling narrative. However, the focus on mental health is at the top as well. Naomi Osaka’s hiatus from competing because of issues regarding media attention and the pressures of being the top women’s player catapulted the mental health topic well beyond the world of tennis. There was also all-time-great gymnast Simone Biles withdrawing from most of her summer Olympic events because of her mental health challenges.
Osaka’s decision was mostly met with confusion and even ridicule at first. But Biles’ decision a few months later was supported by more people, including Osaka and swimmer Michael Phelps, who talked about his mental health struggles and further pushed the issue into the mainstream.
Not a place to work on yourself
Football players are known for their toughness, but they are not immune to mental health challenges. Vikings lineman Everson Griffin stopped competing earlier this season as he gets help with his bipolar disorder, yet it’s Antonio Brown who remains the prime example of someone who needs help. Quarterback Tom Brady said as much after Brown stripped off his uniform jersey and pads and retreated to the locker room as the Buccaneers came from behind to beat the Jets in New York. This was the latest item on a long list of dangerous, weird or bizarre actions by Brown on and off the field.
Brady had campaigned to sign the talented receiver despite pending assault charges and a checkered history with other teams, including the Patriots when Brady was there. Brady even put Brown up at his home in Tampa Bay and introduced him to motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who focuses on developing a positive mindset. He covered for Brown in ways large and small, but that ended when the team fired the receiver immediately after the game, which led Brady to rightfully point out that Brown needed help and not anger and dismissal by critics.
Many find that physical activity is a way to clear the head, but hitting the weights or going for a run is far different from performing at the elite level of a sport like the NFL. In the multibillion-dollar industry of professional sports, there are intense media scrutiny, high-stakes competition and cameras that document everything. Hopefully, Brown gets the help he needs before he does something worse.