December 3, 2021 | SPORTS | By Olivia Xerras | Photo by Gracie Roe

The year has been filled with questions about the stigma surrounding mental health in sports. Purposeful individuals, ranging from professional to amateur levels, have paved a transformative pathway.

One major player in the mental health game, Victoria Garrick, a successful collegiate volleyball player from the University of Southern California, gained a massive following for her intuitive eating and “real post” image campaigns across her social media platforms.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Garrick

After battling extreme depression and anxiety, in addition to body-image issues which she unraveled within a 2017 TED Talk called “The Hidden Opponent,” she became a strong mental health advocate. She speaks candidly and posts daily about the struggles she has faced. Garrick continues bringing awareness for others who may be battling their own adversities,  making clear that they are not alone in the athlete community.

Although a known figure, nobody quite compares to Simone Biles in terms of the high bar she has consistently set. Biles’ ability and fame made her Olympic mental meltdown front page news; her story was put forward for the world to dissect.

Photo courtesy of The New Yorker

Going into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with high expectation, Biles shocked the world when talk surrounding her withdrawal from multiple competition events due to mental health struggles occurred. Some spectators across the United States at first tabbed her as being “soft” or “ill-prepared”; they swore her off as an athlete who was too afraid of the big stage.

There were also headlines like USA Today’s “Simone Biles is a role model for prioritizing her mental health over a gold medal,” although this outlook was not common until much later, when a diagnosis and real explanations for her emotions were brought to the surface.

This begs the question, does acceptance of mental health struggles really need an explanation? In particular, in the NFL, there has been a lack of openness to talk freely about such a historically touchy subject.

More resources, some supplied by the NFL, have aided the fight to standardized support for mental wellness. Their players fight social stigmas and the league’s “just play through it” ethos in an attempt to fill the gap between professional football and other professional leagues in their pursuit to end false narratives with mental health.

There is a long way to go to really win this fight across all sports. Although more openness has been achieved, there is much progress to be made over the next decade to really make permanent waves in such a necessary component of an athlete’s game, their mind’s well-being. 

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