Opinion: Athletes Are People Too

Skip Bayless is a Fox Sports personality who has been in the sporting world for a long time. He is one of the biggest names in sports journalism, using his hot takes and holier-than-thou attitude to rise to fame. He sticks to narratives and intentionally says controversial things to get a rise out of viewers and fans everywhere. Which is not necessarily the wrong way. It’s easier to get clicks like this, and it’s how many businesses have sustained their revenue in 2020. Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith act and speak similarly, for which they’ve also gained notoriety. However, when the chance arose for Skip to prove he had some compassion, he instead showed no filter and crossed a line.

Dak Prescott, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, came out in an interview to confirm that his brother, Jace, had committed suicide earlier this year. Dak described the effect it had on him as a person. He couldn’t believe it and couldn’t understand why it happened. He described experiencing emotions which he had never felt before, specifically depression and anxiety. Dak had every right to feel this way; losing a family member is a brutal affair that nobody should have to go endure. Prescott struggled through the offseason as a result. He didn’t get any sleep or nor did he have the desire to work out. He became worried it would impact his ability to lead.

It is a very strong thing to come out and say. As a public figure, admitting weakness can be terrifying, especially since millions of fans out there view him as a larger-than-life character, rather than a person. Still, Prescott thought holding it in would make him a fake leader. He figured that by opening up, he could get through it more easily, which would then allow him to lead the right way. But Skip Bayless was less than sympathetic.

“I don’t have sympathy for him going public with, ‘I got depressed. I suffered depression early in COVID to the point where I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s Team.’” That is an unfiltered quote by Bayless in response to Dak’s interview. Skip was then confronted regarding his remark, but he instead chose to double down: “I said yesterday, if Dak needed help for pandemic depression, he should have sought counseling then.”

People like Bayless perpetuate the stigmas against depression and mental health issues with comments and attitudes like these. Now other professional athletes might think, “Why open up about very real, personal issues if they’re only going to be shut down since someone else decides they’re not important?” This is why more people like Prescott are needed; by coming forward and sharing their stories, they can help fight those stigmas.

It’s easy to write off athletes when they come forward with issues like this, since critics tend to use their net worth as a reason for why they can’t be sad. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles experienced a meteoric rise to stardom in 2013, hitting 53 homers and finishing third in MVP voting. He was offered a gargantuan contract but then plummeted afterwards. Davis led the league in strikeouts in 2015 and 2016. He said he struggled emotionally by performing as bad as he did. People simply wrote off his struggles since he was making $160 million over seven years.

What fans need to remember is that athletes are people, too. They didn’t necessarily ask for the pedestals that people put them on; but because of this, professional athletes are put in situations where they’re simply not allowed to be vulnerable. People like Skip Bayless have brand recognition and will most likely face no consequences. They will be free to tear people down over and over again for merely being vulnerable. As fellow fans, we can combat these negative attitudes by continuing to support those athletes who come forward with their stories. We can validate their emotions and continue to progress towards a society where mental health issues can be discussed freely. Athletes are people and will therefore understand that we as fans are on their side.

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