On the cover of Time magazine this week, a portrait of tennis superstar Naomi Osaka appears with the headline “It’s good not to be well”
The statement refers to Osaka’s high-profile decision to withdraw from Roland Garros after learning she would be penalized for her decision not to attend press conferences to protect her sanity.
Osaka’s decision in late May shocked many, garnered contempt from some writers, earned praise from other athletes, and opened a wider conversation about mental health and sports. Many predicted that Osaka‘s courageous choice would open the door to more compassion, openness, and understanding of mental health. In her essay for Time, Osaka wrote, “It has become obvious to me that literally everyone has problems with their mental health or knows someone who does.
In mid-June, former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spoke out, saying professional sport still had “a long way to go” in tackling mental health and praised Osaka for spoke up saying, “She did a phenomenal job, and I’m going to get more people to come out. She was very vulnerable, and I think that frees a lot of people to speak out.”
Now, barely a month later, Sherman’s mental health issues are in the spotlight. Sherman was arrested last week following a 911 call allegedly made by his wife, Ashley Moss-Sherman, claiming he had been drinking and threatened to kill himself. In a subsequent call, his wife said he had been through severe depression. Sherman was charged with five felonies on Friday, including drunk driving and trespassing after allegedly attempting to force entry into his in-laws’ home in Redmond.
I don’t know what exactly happened that night, but I do know that no one should have to feel the kind of fear that Moss-Sherman and his family would have experienced.
Sherman released a declaration Friday on Twitter, expressing remorse for his actions and writing: “I have faced personal challenges over the past few months, but that is no excuse for the way I have acted. The importance of mental and emotional health is extremely real and I am committed to getting the help I need. ”
The Sherman case and others show that we still have a lot of work to do before it is truly okay to not be well in our society.
We got better at talking about a good game when it comes to mental health. Many have expressed support for Osaka and the trail phenomenon Sha’Carri Richardson, when Richardson lost her spot on the Olympic team this month after saying she was self-treating with marijuana to make facing the death of his mother.
But when the time comes, it seems like we’d rather sacrifice all the noble rhetoric around sanity in favor of a good old-fashioned entertaining media show. Take the popcorn, enjoy the show.
As writer Evrett Kramer wrote in Sports Illustrated about Sherman’s arrest last week, our good intentions of treating people in crisis like human beings deserving of care are quickly overshadowed by our insatiable desire to watch the fall of others.
“As the internet exploded with the news (7,000 tweets in the first hour alone), you could literally see the machines of the fall grind and sink their huge teeth into this juicy content,” Kramer wrote. “At this point, our urge to consume content is so far removed from addiction that it’s more of a rapid evolution in our culture as a species that we can’t help but jump into this fray at some point. level that we connect to the show. “
And for every person who watches the last fall unfold, they see how we act, not just what we say. They see how people with mental health issues are actually treated, which indicates how open they will be when they need help themselves.
To rewind the events of last week, what if Moss-Sherman could call the soon-to-be-rolled 988 suicide prevention hotline designed to have people seek help with a mental health crisis without involving the police ? What if a team of mental health workers and medics were dispatched to defuse the situation and prevent what Moss-Sherman feared was a fatal run-in with the police for her husband? What if medical care was sent instead of armed people? Instead of a 911 dispatcher who treated her with condescension and disrespect, and if Moss-Sherman received trauma-informed support from someone trained in social work while in extreme distress ?
All of these things are possible and on the horizon, but we must first lead with our commitment in deeds and not just in words.