Why a depressed football player and an anxious baseball player should give us all hope

Photo by Owen Lystrup via Unsplash

Two sports stories popped up Saturday that I thought were important beyond the ongoing and exasperating discussions of pandemic preparedness and social justice.

The University of Texas cornerback Kobe Boyce announced he was “taking a step away from football” to focus on mental health. Boyce cited depression.

Boyce is a junior who played in 19 games for Texas, including six starts.

I commend this young man for being so open about something that society still has a hard time talking about — mental health.

I know how hard it is to live with depression. I have lived with it most of my life. I control it with medication and talk therapy.

I have been open about this for years. I’ve talked about it. I’ve written about it. I’ve podcasted about it. I’ve tweeted about it. I will continue to do so.

I have my own kind of recognition from my time as a paid paragraph stacker for the local corporate news outlet store.

But I am not a player for the Texas Longhorns, one of the premier programs in college football.

Boyce openly said he was depressed. That is tough.

Sports comes with a culture that despises weakness or the perception of weakness.

Some of that, I suppose, is necessary. To compete at the top levels of amateur and pro sports, one must meet the highest physical and mental demands of the game.

If you cannot reach those levels, you cannot contribute in the way that your coach, your team and your sport demands.

Sports accepts injuries of the physical kind. Broken bones and ligament tears of all kinds are understood.

There was a time when this wasn’t true. I know older sports fans — and older retired players — who glorify playing with injuries that left players crippled after their careers.

Today, people expect top quality medical treatment for all sport-related injuries. Even an obese wobbler like me goes to a sports medicine doctor for pain in his knees and back.

What Boyce has done is say he is injured in another kind of way. He’s hurting in a way that you can’t see.

There’s no limp with depression. His body may look shredded, but his mind is not right.

I am sorry he is dealing with depression. It’s hard to describe the disorder to people who have not walked that path. It’s like looking directly into the sun and not being able to see light. It’s like taking a deep breath and feeling like a tank is parked on your chest.

And, if it goes on long enough, it’s a numbness. You can see joy. You can recognize fun. But all you feel is the dull desire to sleep and shut out all stimuli.

I don’t know Boyce, of course. I don’t know what he’s been through or how he came to recognize he was in pain.

But he has done the most important thing any of us with mental health issues can do: Admit that it’s a problem and take steps to take care of it.

I pray for Boyce. I hope his care is top-flight. And I hope he saw the other sports story that caught my interest Saturday.

That is the story of Daniel Bard, a right-handed pitcher. Bard made the roster for the Colorado Rockies after a seven-year absence from baseball.

Bard came up with the Boston Red Sox but developed control problems, a condition baseball fans colloquially refer to as “the yips” or “hiccups.”

The issue is a legitimate mental health problem. Something goes wrong and an athlete starts to overthink motions that were once routine. Pretty soon they can’t find the strike zone or can’t make a throw to first base.

Baseball people are sympathetic to it, but they also fear it. The idea that one day you suddenly can’t do what you’ve always done — and done at such a high level — is absolutely terrifying.

Bard developed anxiety disorder. He remade his life. He got treatment. He got back into baseball as a pitching coach.

The guys he played catch with told him he still had good stuff. He should try to make camp.

He did. And he made it — from out of the game to all the way back.

Now, sometime in this bizarre, 60-game season, he’ll toe the mound again as a Major League Baseball player and whip the ball to the catcher.

I hope Bard has a terrific year, but even if his ERA or win-loss record isn’t great, he’s already an MVP.

The weight of mental health issues is one of the most difficult burdens for humans to bear. That Bard was able to regroup after all those years and earn a second chance in an unforgiving sport that casts aside people for far less faulty performance is a testament to his mental toughness.

“Mental toughness” is to sports what “resilience” is to psychology. All it means is you refuse to let your troubles define you.

I hope Texas’ Boyce reads about Colorado’s Bard and sees a path forward.

And I hope soon both men are enjoying the sunlight again.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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