In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, this May, ESPN highlights the stories of athletes, coaches and other sports figures who have experienced personal battles with mental health, and who want to use their platforms to openly discuss what happened next, and what helped them.
These stories reflect a broad range of subjects and experiences, including life amid the coronavirus pandemic, living with anxiety, depression, coping with pressure in their respective sports, dealing with addiction, and many more.
In 1989, I was a third grader at Washington International School at the Olive Street campus across town in Georgetown. To that point in life there were two things I knew about the world outside of my neighborhood in Washington: In the morning, my classroom spoke English. In the afternoons, we spoke French. It wasn't much more complicated than that, for me. WIS was the only school I'd ever gone to, aside from preschool, and that's how the language immersion program worked.
Our French teacher was a woman named Madame Costa. I don't remember a ton about her other than that she was intensely French, from the way that she dressed to the way that she talked to the crepes she made in class if we were good on a Friday. Like most teachers of her ilk, she didn't play a whole lotta games, so to speak, and expected a strict level of order in her operations.
On November 19, 2004, Indiana Pacers forward Metta World Peace (then named Ron Artest) laid on the scorer's table at the Palace of Auburn Hills, former home of the Detroit Pistons, where a confrontation was afoot. With 45 seconds left and the game in hand for the Pacers, World Peace had committed a hard foul on Pistons strong man Ben Wallace, who reacted by pushing World Peace and sending him to that aforementioned spot to cool down.
Then, it happened -- a blue cup thrown by Pistons fan John Green pegged World Peace, who charged into the stands and set off a vicious melee between players and fans. It was a fit of anger that's now synonymous with World Peace's career and perhaps the perception of his personal well-being. But World Peace avowed it was less indicative of his mental health than it was retaliatory.
Mental skills coach Colleen Hacker joins espnW's Laughter Permitted to explain the idea of stress-related growth
After the U.S. women's national team lost in the 1995 World Cup, Professor Colleen Hacker joined the coaching staff to help players not with their soccer fundamentals but with their overall mental skills game.
As an expert in the psychology of peak performance with a doctorate in exercise and movement science, Hacker's message to players then is one she continues to share today: It is possible to take a challenging loss and turn it into a growth experience. It's no coincidence that, under Hacker's guidance, the U.S. team went on to win a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics followed by a World Cup win in 1999.
By Dearica Hamby, Nneka Ogwumike, A'ja Wilson -- as told to Elizabeth Merrill and Mechelle Voepel
Before celebrating the 25th anniversary season, the WNBA and its 144 players had to navigate the most unusual season in their quarter-century history. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced players (some with family), coaches and support staff into a bubble in Bradenton, Florida. Isolated but not sheltered, 144 players protested in unison after the shooting of Jacob Blake.
They underwent daily testing for coronavirus. They practiced and they played. As depicted in ESPN Films' "144," the challenges were both physical and mental. A'ja Wilson, the league's reigning MVP; Dearica Hamby, the mother of a then-3-year-old daughter; and Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the executive committee of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, reflect on the challenges they overcame and the lessons they learned before, during and after their nearly 100 days inside the "Wubble."
When Dina Asher-Smith takes her place on the starting blocks at the delayed Olympic Games this summer, she is determined to be in peak condition both physically and mentally. The British sprinter has had an extra year to prepare for one of the biggest occasions of her career and she doesn't want to leave any stone unturned.
During these unprecedented times, Asher-Smith has grown fond of the idea: "If not now, when?" There might never be another chance in her life where she will have the opportunity to learn more about herself, and the 25-year-old has adopted a renewed focus on mental health.
Looking back on her life, Long never fully imagined she would be in this place. She never imagined she would be training to compete in her fifth Paralympics this summer in Tokyo. And yet she knows that every time she jumps in the swimming pool or stands on the podium, she is doing it for others who aspire to be there one day and for her younger self: the little Serbian girl who was adopted from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old.
Who was born with fibular hemimelia (she didn't have fibulas, ankles, heels or most of the other bones in her feet). Who had both legs amputated below the knees at 18 months so she could be fitted for prosthetics and learn how to walk. Long talked with espnW about how she trained through a pandemic, why she continues to find her purpose in and out of the pool, and what it's like preparing for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.
For former South Africa goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo, there was no real rock bottom when it came to alcohol, and there was no single thing that made him go from a teetotal professional footballer to someone with a drinking problem. However, he came out of it.
After a few sober years, though, he now faces a new loss after he was struck by what he calls a 'point blank, full-blast' shot to the face in training, resulting in the functional loss of vision in his left eye. Despite this news, Mhlongo tells ESPN why he is determined to to keep on the mentally healthy road that took him so long to find.
Athletes spend their days preparing their bodies to undertake extreme physical exertion but Psycho-Social Lead for the Sunrisers cricket team Kate Green is trying to make them understand the importance of working on their mental health. Working with Sunrisers' Regional Director of Women's Cricket Danni Warren, the two women want to hammer home the point that prevention can be better than a cure.
In this exclusive interview with Valkerie Baynes, the women explain that most girls don't go through an academy system that supported their personal and professional development in the same way as their male counterparts and tell ESPN what they're doing to change that.
Bryan on Premier League promotion, dealing with panic attacks
Fulham's Joe Bryan opens up on how he manages anxiety and pressure.
Joe Bryan can't remember how he felt during the best moments of his career. He only recalls those two goals he scored against Brentford in the 2020 Championship playoff final, which earned Fulham promotion to the Premier League and a £170m windfall, through watching highlights. Nor can he remember the emotions of scoring a wondergoal against Manchester United for Bristol City in 2017.
But he can vividly recall the moments mid-match in which he was gripped by anxiety, and that feeling of wanting to run 100 miles away from being him in that moment. There are mornings where he wakes up "feeling like s---"; those minutes are vivid, too. "I still question whether I have a right to be playing where I am, whether I'm good enough to be where I am," he told ESPN. "I still question myself."
Drew Robinson opens up on mental health while preparing for pro baseball comeback
Drew Robinson opens up about his mental health journey as he works toward a return to professional baseball. "Alive: The Drew Robinson Story" streaming now on ESPN+.
EVERYTHING IS MOVING so fast for Drew Robinson, sometimes too fast, and on Saturday night, the object traveling toward him at an uncomfortable velocity was a batted ball, lined to left field, where Drew was playing his third game for the Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.#
Baseball doesn't come as easy as it once did, though that's to be expected. When Drew first tried to adjust to life without his right eye, simple things like filling a cup with water were difficult. Now the ball screaming toward Drew is the latest test, another referendum on whether he belongs here. It could hiss right by him and skip to the wall, lending a little more credence to those who can't see what he's doing for what it is: a miracle.
When Stuart Meaker went through a divorce two years ago, he started speaking to a therapist. Realising there's no quick fix when mental health issues arise, he has continued those sessions every couple of weeks, well beyond the initial three months or so that seems standard when someone seeks help through a difficult life event.
In that time, Meaker, the Sussex seamer who was once on the fast-track to England honours, has learnt a lot about quick fixes.
"What a lot of people do when they end up going through difficult life circumstances or relationship break-ups is they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their job and their career, their cricket, whatever it is, because it's a great means of distraction," Meaker tells ESPNcricinfo.
During the delay of the 2020 Formula One season, drivers used various strategies to keep themselves occupied. McLaren's Lando Norris tells ESPN's Nate Saunders why he decided to use his platform to be open about his mental health, and how he inadvertently helped others.
England prop Joe Marler has urged the British & Irish Lions to bring a clinical psychiatrist with them when they tour South Africa later this year.
The 37-man squad for the tour was announced last Thursday and Marler has advocated that the mental wellbeing of the players has to be a priority this summer.
Ericka Goodman-Hughey: Arizona women's hoops coach Adia Barnes on balancing motherhood and career while learning to love on herself
I'm trying to get more comfortable with saying, "This is my value, and this is what I deserve and I'm asking for it."
I'm not always good at that, and most women don't demand that. We're kind of like, "Oh, whatever is given, we have to accept it." We need to start understanding our value. Recently, I agreed to a 5-year contract extension [worth $5.85 million in base salary over five years] to continue as the head coach for the Arizona women's basketball team. It made me feel appreciated, it made me feel valued, it made me feel like Arizona was investing in me long term.
I also value my home life.
Albion Rovers striker David Cox has announced he has quit football after he said he was verbally abused by an opposition player about his mental health struggles.
The 32-year-old, who was on the bench for the Scottish League 2 game against Stenhousemuir, left the stadium at half-time after he said he was taunted about his previous suicide attempts.
English football, including clubs in the Premier League and Women's Super League, will undertake a three-day social media boycott next week in response to "the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football."
High-profile players such as Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Lauren James, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold have reported that they have received racist abuse on social media platforms.
Liam Livingstone, the England and Rajasthan Royals batter, has opted to return home early from the IPL, citing "bubble fatigue" after spending much of the last ten months moving in and out of biosecure environments. The Royals said that Livingstone had flown back to the UK on Monday, before India was added to a "red list" of countries from which the arrivals need to undergo a mandatory ten-day quarantine period.
Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens: Barcelona's Koeman: Lenglet struggled with social media abuse after Cadiz mistake
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said Clement Lenglet has struggled to deal with the criticism which followed his mistake in Sunday's 1-1 draw against Cadiz.
Lenglet's foul on Ruben Sobrino in the final minute of the game handed Cadiz a penalty, which they scored from, as Barca missed the chance to close the gap on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to six points.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has said it is his personal duty and the game's responsibility to address the problem of dementia that has impacted several former players.
The issue of dementia in the professional game was sparked by the death of England's Nobby Stiles in October and there have been calls for the issue of head injuries in sport to be given further attention.
Stiles and many of his 1966 World Cup winning teammates had been diagnosed with dementia before their deaths while United great Bobby Charlton also disclosed his diagnosis recently.
Chicharito's plea to normalise mental health conversations
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez passionately explains why he hopes to see more discussion around mental health.
Hernandez scored just two goals in his maiden season in Major League Soccer as Galaxy missed out on the playoffs and, in February, told the LA Times he had "hit rock bottom."
The 32-year-old also said he did some soul searching at the end of last season and that he hopes people can talk more openly about their personal struggles.
"I'm not a robot, I'm not perfect," Hernandez said in a news conference. "It is a difficult topic to talk about, which I hope can be normalized, no matter who you are or how much money you have -- it doesn't matter, we're all humans.
Mark Ogden: Football's mental health crisis: anxiety, eating disorders fears as players stay away from counselling
The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) are increasingly concerned by the prospect of hidden mental health issues within the game after identifying a decline of more than 25% in members accessing the organisation's counselling services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since 2016, the PFA has noticed year-on-year growth in terms of its members -- including both present day and former players -- making use of its confidential counselling services provided by Sporting Chance, the sports mental health charity.
The counsellors provided by Sporting Chance enable PFA members to discuss issues such as addictive disorders, anxiety, relationship issues, eating disorders and transition from playing into retirement.
But the numbers of members using the services are down by almost 29% during 2020 and senior figures within the PFA's Player Welfare team believe that the constraints of lockdown and restrictions on social interaction are contributing to the worrying drop in speaking to counsellors.
Emily Kaplan: The NHL's struggles with mental health this season: How players are confronting anxiety and isolation
Player X is having a hard time. "I never thought I would be doing an interview like this," he says. "But yeah, this season hasn't been easy."
Player X is still on his entry-level NHL contract. He plays for a United States-based team but is from another country and is unsure when he can see his family again. He is renting a condo and admits the decorations are a little sparse. During training camp, he began struggling to fall asleep and noticed himself getting irritated on FaceTime calls with his parents or girlfriend -- sometimes even letting calls go unanswered, which is unusual for him.
Going to the rink and being able to skate always felt awesome, he explains.
Derby winger Jordon Ibe has said he is suffering from depression in an emotional post on Instagram.
The 25-year-old joined Championship side Derby from Bournemouth at the end of last season and has made one appearance this term. He has has not been included in a matchday squad this year under manager Wayne Rooney.
"I want to apologise to all my fans around the world," Ibe wrote on Instagram. 'I've find (sic) myself in a dark place, due to suffering with depression. It's no scheme for the media or to have my name in your mouths, I just find things hard truly.
"I appreciate all the love and messages from everyone. Times are hard in general due to this pandemic. I have the full support from my family and Derby County football club.
"I will fix myself and this situation, which I'm 100 per cent committed to. Not only for my family, close friend or my daughter but for me."
Norman Cowans, the first West Indies-born fast bowler to play Test cricket for England, hopes that a new initiative from his former county Middlesex can help to reignite a passion for the game in the inner-city London communities where he learnt the sport as a teenager.
Cowans, who played 19 Tests and 23 ODIs between 1982 to 1985, was an integral member of the most successful Middlesex team of all time, as well as its most ethnically representative. During his 13 years at the club, he helped secure ten trophies, including four County Championships, and claimed 532 first-class wickets in that period at 22.57.
Alongside his fellow England cricketers, Roland Butcher, Wilf Slack and Neil Williams, as well as the West Indies fast bowler, Wayne Daniel, Cowans frequently took the field for Middlesex as one of five black cricketers - a ratio that reflects the ethnic mix of such boroughs as Haringey, Harrow and Brent that fall squarely within the club's catchment area.