What do you think about when the word “athlete” comes to mind? Committed, dedicated, strong, hardworking. Yet, there is a specific term that is rarely associated with athletes, because it is assumed that it is functioning well all of the time: mental health.
It has impacted well-known people, like Simone Biles, the face of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team and arguably the most decorated active gymnast in the world. Entering the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo this summer, friends, family, teammates, and the rest of the world prepared to watch Biles with expectations of high achievement. The idea of this was an incredible mental strain, as she felt the “weight of the world” on her shoulders. As a result, she decided to withdraw from the team competition until her health improved. Despite this obstacle, after her first competition following the hiatus, Biles earned a bronze medal.
Regardless, she did not escape the criticism of her controversial departure. American conservative activist Charlie Kirk discussed her decision on his “The Charlie Kirk Show” podcast.
“We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles,” Kirk said.
Even Naomi Osaka, the first Asian player in the world to hold the top ranking in singles tennis, recently announced that she is taking a break from the game after struggling with her mental health.
“I feel like for me recently when I win, I don’t feel happy,” Osaka said during a post-match interview following a loss against Leylah Fernandez. “I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal.”
During the match, she appeared visibly discouraged and frustrated, especially when losing the second-set tiebreak as she threw her racket and ball to the ground.
These instances are frequently placed on the backburner of overall health. More often than not, an injury is associated with physical breaks, sprains, and bruises compared to psychological troubles. Someone obviously couldn’t play with a sprained ankle, but a mental health condition is equally incapacitating. Though, people don’t acknowledge the disability it can cause.
If cases of athletes struggling with mental health issues are constantly reappearing, how many others are secretly coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and other similar challenges? In the public eye, especially after the challenging quarantine, it is okay to be struggling and reach out even though it may be uncomfortable to personally acknowledge a mental health issue. We as a society need to sign the cast on emotional struggles just like we sign a cast holding broken bones together.