Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Loaded Issue: Mental Health

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene has battled performance-hindering anxiety.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis said publicly that he had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Three professional baseball players have landed on the disabled list this season for a problem they can't ice, bandage or have surgically repaired: anxiety.

Never has it been talked about before, openly; mental health is simply not discussed.

Some fans might not feel much sympathy for the psychological burdens of professional baseball players -- athletes who typically earn huge salaries to do what many people would consider a dream job.

Playing baseball looks easy, but it isn't. And, many would think, what pressure?

Professional athletes in other sports have acknowledged debilitating anxiety, though often the disclosures have come after retirement. National Football League running back Ricky Williams suffered severe social anxiety. Another onetime NFL star, Herschel Walker, disclosed in a 2008 book that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, formerly called multiple personality disorder.

The public's perception that professional athletes are impervious to the challenges afflicting mere mortals makes it harder for athletes to admit their struggles. And people who work with top athletes say their high public profile leaves them especially vulnerable to anxiety. The stakes are high. Slips in performance don't go unnoticed by 50,000 people in a stadium, some of whom are happy to provide less-than-constructive feedback.

Known as the boo-birds.

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