Conversation of mental health in sports more harrowing than it seems

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Conversations about mental health should never have negative repercussions, but professional sports could soon find itself risking just that.
 
Over the past year, professional athletes have opened up in droves, revealing their struggles with mental illness. In a personal essay, NBA star Kevin Love revealed his battle with anxiety and pointed toward the traditional locker room culture that perpetuates ideals of physical and mental toughness.
 
“It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own,” he writes. He explains that coaches and teammates view physical injuries the same as mental illness. The best athletes are meant to train their bodies and minds to the point that when game day arrives, they’re ready to go. 
 
The word “healthy” isn’t given enough weight in the athletic sphere—but “strength” is.
 
While Love has been a proponent for a growing movement of athletes expressing their struggle with mental illnesses, I worry about the fallout for players who do the same. 
 
I worry they’ll fall victim to the same culture they’re trying to upend.
 
The business of sport has its list of sad truths. At the frontlines of this is the idea that winning is everything. 
With each decision, the coach of a team tries to remove barriers that stand in the way of championships. That leaves them with choices to make surrounding their players’ careers—if a player has a bad knee, do they trade them for a less talented but healthier player?
 
As the topic of mental health arises, these questions might transition to become uncomfortable conversations: a player has anxiety—how much will it impact their game? And if it’s hurting their play, how do we handle it?
 
The answers to these questions will be critical to the direction of the mental health movement. There’s a common belief that the mind is as much a part of the body—and as valuable—as one’s joints. If any of those parts aren’t fully functional, the value of an athlete diminishes. They become less coveted and more expendable.  
 
But there’s also the belief that like a knee injury, someone can manage their mental illness. An athlete’s battle with mental illness may be seen as a weakness to some, but it can also be viewed as treatable.
 
Nothing about this movement is wrong. Breaking down the cultures that demand athletes to keep a strong psyche is important to raising children into a healthy competitive culture. 
 
But in professional sports, many may find themselves at a troubling point when we’re forced to once again consider if it’s worth telling someone.
 
Matt is The Journal’s Sports Editor. He is a third-year English student. 

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