'You Have to Share These Things': 13 Times Athletes Opened Up About Mental Health
From Naomi Osaka to Michael Phelps, these athletes are challenging the stigma of mental illness and opening up about how they take care of their mental health
The 23-year-old tennis champion announced ahead of the 2021 French Open that she would not be doing post-match press in an effort to preserve her own mental health.
"I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health, and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one," she wrote. "We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."
She added, "I've watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while their down and I don't understand the reasoning behind it."
Osaka said that she would be accepting the fines that came with her choice, though she added that she hoped that organizations will rethink that mandate.
"If the organizations think that they can just keep saying, 'do press or you're gonna be fined,' and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh," she concluded. "Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity."
After picking up her first French Open win, Osaka was met with a $15,000 fine for not participating in media requirements. She subsequently withdrew from the Grand Slam tournament.
She later announced that she would withdraw in a message on Instagram.
She opened up about her social anxiety in the lengthy post, sharing, "Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety." She added, "Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can."
Osaka said that she does think that "the rules are quite outdated in parts."
She concluded, "I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense. I'm gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."
Two-time U.S. ladies figure skating champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist Gold announced in 2017 that she would be taking some time off from figure skating to "seek professional help."
“My passion for skating and training remains strong,” Gold said at the time. “However, after recent struggles on and off the ice, I realize I need to seek some professional help and will be taking some time off while preparing for my Grand Prix assignments.”
“This time will help me become a stronger person,” she continued, “which I believe will be reflected in my skating performances as well.”
Gold received treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder in 2017. She returned to skating in January 2020, competing in the U.S. Nationals.
The champion Olympic swimmer is a prominent advocate for mental health, sharing his own personal struggles with anxiety and depression.
In October 2018, the swimmer revealed on Today, "From time to time, I’ll have bad days where I do go into a depression state."
He added, "Being an athlete, you’re supposed to be strong and be able to push through anything. My struggles carried on through my career and I hid them well. There are so many people who struggle from very similar things that I go through and still go through. … At times, it was a little scary and challenging to go through, but I found a way to get through it and I’m addressing these issues that I have."
Phelps also revealed that, at his lowest point in October 2014, he did not leave his house for five days and was suicidal.
“For me, I was so down on myself. I didn’t have any self-love and quite honestly, I just didn’t want to be alive,” he told Today. “It was a really, really, really crazy time for me and I didn’t want to see anybody. I saw myself as letting so many people down — and my, myself, in particular. That’s hard to carry.”
He continued, "Over those three or four days where I didn’t want to leave my room and I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I finally realized that I can ask for help and it’s okay not to be okay. And for me, that’s what changed my life. I never asked for help really ever in my career. That was the first time that I really did that. I was basically on my knees, crying for help."
In 2018, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love created the Kevin Love Fund after releasing an article explaining his struggles with mental health. The foundation is aimed at awareness for children struggling with mental health.
In the article, Love revealed that he had experienced a panic attack in the middle of a game. The episode inspired the basketball player to work on his mental health.
In May 2019, Love discussed his willingness to be open about his anxiety with PEOPLE, saying, "It was a very tough year for me away from the floor. People don’t even know the extent of it, but they know enough to be very relatable for me, having suffered from anxiety and depression my whole life, for as long as I can remember.”
"What I have found about mental health or mental illness is that it takes many shapes and forms," he said. “It goes with every demographic, but I think for myself in creating my fund, the big demographic I really want to point out and look to is children. I think it is very important for kids and their parents to understand what is going on, and that’s why being here is so important.”
He added that basketball has always felt like a "safe place" for him: "It is a good stress reliever and a place where you can be freed. It was my first love, so basketball is always been my safe place, but I would say more often than not, in a large majority of time, it [anxiety] has taken place away from the court."
Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall told PEOPLE that he was trying to keep up with his mental wellness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For athletes, people don't see that side of us," Fall shared with PEOPLE in May 2020. "They only see us on the court competing every night, having fun, just going out to fans and always putting out a smile. But sometimes all that kind of stuff can get draining, and that's very similar to the situation right now."
He added, "A lot of people are out of their comfort zone and they're not doing things that they usually do, so it's something different for them. Sitting at home might be a little depressing."
Former football star Marshall told PEOPLE that, at the start of his career in the NFL, he was prone to volatile behavior.
"The dumb mistakes I made in college," he said, "the stupid things I've said in the media. All of that led to me sitting down with my team, my agent and my assistant at the time, and saying 'Yes. It's time to get help and not just talk therapy, but let's figure out if there's a program out there.' "
In 2011, Marshall entered an outpatient program at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts for three months. He was ultimately diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Following the revelation, Marshall created Project 375, which is dedicated to the education, support, and treatment of mental health. He also founded the health facility House of Athlete, which is focused on athletes with both physical and mental wellness.
In April 2020, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback revealed that his older brother, Jace Prescott, had died by suicide. He said that the death of his brother, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, caused him to go through the early stages of depression.
“All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before,” Prescott said.
“Anxiety for the main one. And then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression," he continued. "And to the point of, I didn’t want to work out anymore. I didn’t know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn’t been sleeping at all.”
Prescott encouraged others to be open about their struggles, “Because our adversities, our struggles, what we go through is always gonna be too much for ourselves and maybe too much for even one or two people, but never too much for a community or too much for people in the family that you love. So you have to share these things.”
The Green Bay Packers quarterback applauded Prescott's candidness, calling the moment "phenomenal."
Rodgers told The Athletic, "I think it’s great, I saw what Dak said and I applaud him. I think it’s phenomenal, him speaking out because that’s true courage and that’s true strength. It’s not a weakness at all."
"Anybody who attacks it … other people’s opinions of ourselves have really nothing to do with us. And other people’s opinions of Dak have nothing to do with him. That’s their own inability to deal with their own s–t, probably."
"I think that at the bare minimum it make you more relatable to people. That we have the same struggles and the same issues, and the same desires to grow and change and see things in a better, positive light that so many people out there do," he told The Athletic.
"I think the more that we can connect with people, especially with conversations like this, the better our society can be moving forward as a connected society built around love and positivity," Rodgers continued.
The Olympic gold and silver medalist — who has been open in the past about experiencing depression and an eating disorder — told POPSUGAR of her mental health journey, citing music, writing, and reading, and therapy for keeping her in check amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tokyo Olympics.
She said of therapy, "You're just taking a stranger who knows nothing about you or your life or what you've been through, doesn't know anybody that you know. And you get to share just everything and leave it in that room when you're done. I think that's wonderful."
Hernandez also told POPSUGAR that she has been on antidepressants since 2019, saying, "There's no shame in that, and I was putting it off for a while because even though I don't stigmatize it for other people, I was doing it for myself."
The 23-year-old American sprinter revealed on Twitter in August 2020 that he made the decision to begin taking antidepressants. He wrote, "Recently I decided to get on antidepressant medication. That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Since then I have been able to think with out the dark undertone in mind of nothing matters. Thank you God for mental Health."
Atlanta Falcons player Hurst told Jada Pinkett Smith on Red Table Talk in December 2020, "There is this persona that you're an NFL player and you're almost like a robot. You just show up on Sundays and you're this big physical person."
He continued, "But I think it's more masculine to truly reach out for help and say 'Hey, I have a problem and I need assistance here.' "
The football player had previously opened up about his experience with depression, explaining in a pair of videos posted by the NFL that he first began struggling while playing for a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“I didn’t have control like I normally did and then sure enough, I let a 95 mph. fastball go and it hit this kid in the head,” he said. “For me, it was just sheer embarrassment.” The incident led to him leaving baseball in pursuit of a football career. He went to play for the University of South Carolina, but he continued to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
“One night it just caught up to me," Hurst continued, referring to his 2016 suicide attempt. “At that point, I wanted out. I’d fought for so long and I just wanted it to be over."
“It was the best and the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life,” he said. “I made a promise to myself: I’m not going to do this again. For whatever reason, God looked down on me and gave me a second shot at this thing.”
In April 2021, the two-time Olympian opened up about how she takes care of her mental health since retiring from gymnastics. CBS This Morning co-host Anthony Mason asked Raisman how she has reconnected with herself since going into retirement, and the former gymnast gave a candid answer.
In the interview, Raisman said that starting gymnastics at a young age was to blame for her struggles with mental health: "My results, or my worth in the sport, is based off of what other people think of me."
Raisman began by noting that it is a "work in progress and healing is not one-size-fits-all."
"I feel differently each day, but it's been really interesting because I went from being in the best shape of my life, working out six to seven hours some days, to honestly, some days, not even being able to go for a 10-minute walk outside," she continued. "I'm still kind of trying to navigate how to fully recover, but I've learned the importance of being kind to myself."
Raisman added, "Because I've realized that when I'm really stressed out, when I'm having a lot of anxiety, I'm often really hard on myself and it is exhausting. I'm sure anyone who's watching who can relate to experiencing some type of trauma or anxiety, can recognize just how exhausting it can be. So I've learned the importance of taking time for myself each day and prioritizing my mental health."
Retired pro football player (and inspiration for The Blind Side) Oher opened up to PEOPLE about his mental health and healing from childhood trauma in March 2021.
"I'm still traumatized and I still deal with things that I dealt with as a kid," Oher told PEOPLE. "If you're still dealing with trauma, [therapy] is definitely needed early on, because I had to do that to get back healthy."
"The mind is the most powerful thing and it has to be healthy to be successful," said Oher. "I bottled so much stuff up throughout my life. I carried that with me and I think it hurt me in the long run. That may be the only thing holding you back from being where you want to be — talking to somebody."