If you're like me, you missed last week's Sports Illustrated story on Major League Baseball's efforts to address the mental-health issues of its players. The article outlines how, in the words of a former players' association director, "the macho world of professional baseball [once] refused to recognize emotional weakness," and how the league has taken "giant steps" to acknowledge problems and give players the time and resources to get better:
...The NFL, NBA and NHL each have had notable cases-from the social anxiety of Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams to the clinical depression of Cavaliers guard Delonte West and former Canadiens winger Stéphane Richer-but baseball has led the way in supporting a growing number of players who have been brave enough to seek assistance for such problems and speak out about them.
I'd never given it much thought, but professional baseball is a sport that can place tremendous mental stress on players. The rate of failure in baseball is high, there is an intense focus on invididual stats, and players, who spend a large chunk of the year away from home and their support networks, have an enormous amount of alone time during which to think about their on-field mistakes. And the (heckling) fans don't help, either:
"An athlete's self concept is so anchored to his ability to do these wonderful things on a field," says [Ronald Smith, PhD, director of the University of Washington's clinical psychology training program]. "I've seen problems develop in well-functioning people with no prior issues. Then they have to deal with constant questions, booing. It's a pressure cooker."
Whether you're a baseball fan or not, the article is worth a read.