For most of the 20th century, mental health has been a topic virtually ignored in sports. The mental health and well-being of athletes have been pushed aside as if it were an inconvenience. But, with athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Naomi Osaka coming forward recently about their struggles with mental health, there is now hope for greater awareness surrounding mental health in today’s world. Mental health is becoming a serious focal point for many athletes, especially those paying it forward through outreach programs to help others struggling with mental illness. In acknowledging this evolution in sports, it is vital to understand where the recent surge for change began.
On September 9th, 2018, at the US Open Tennis Championship, during the final match of the Women’s Singles, an interview was conducted on ESPN by Jim Gray with both contestants Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. The players had just finished playing some spectacular rallies on the court and getting into significant exchanges on-court between each other and Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou which resulted in Williams being handed a game penalty late in the second set. Towards the end of the second set, Williams lost her temper. She smashed her racquet on the court, resulting in a point penalty and another code violation for “verbally abusing” umpire Carlos Ramos resulting in a game penalty and costing Serena Williams to lose that match.
In the interview conducted by Gray with both players after their match, he asked Osaka how she felt about Serena’s outburst and if it affected her play. It was at this point where Osaka started crying, and no one understood why, including viewers at home who saw nothing wrong with Gray’s question or Naomi’s response. This event sparked speculation from many people asking what made Naomi cry during the post-match interview; some even accused Jim Gray of “bullying” Osaka. Osaka’s emotions came not because of Gray’s question but about something else entirely.
The response from Osaka is where mental health awareness began to place its foot forward for athletes struggling with mental health issues. Mental health had been set ablaze in the tennis world, as players were worried that what happened to Naomi before her US Open finals appearance may have been triggered by Serena’s outburst during the match. Outside attention began being drawn towards Naomi Osaka and understanding why she broke down during an interview after winning one of the most prestigious championships in all sports.
Mental health in sports has become a more widely accepted topic of discussion due to Osaka’s actions, and more media outlets are beginning to pay attention to the reports of mental illness among athletes. Mental health is also becoming a focal point on a literal playing field, from youth leagues up through semi-professional and professional levels beginning to hire Mental Health Coordinators to evaluate the conditions and well-being of athletes such as Drew Robison, the newly appointed Mental Health Coordinator for the San Francisco Giants. These actions are changing sports for the better by creating awareness, reducing stigma, impacting the lives of other people struggling with similar issues, and helping athletes struggling with mental illness issues.
Naomi Osaka has since returned from her mental health break. She is currently progressing through the current US Open tournament as we speak. Osaka is just one of many athletes who have recently brought new attention to mental health awareness and its effects on sports and all aspects of athletes’ lives. Mental health matters. And The Varsity Chronicle is excited to watch how athletes navigate this new awareness, and we can continue to Namoi’s and other’s footsteps to bring positive attention and change to sports.
The Freeman Era Difference
Verbal general or coaching revolutionary? Analyzing the approach of new Notre Dame Football Head Coach, Marcus Freeman.
If you are a Notre Dame fan or just interested in reading our write-up on the recent coaching change out of South Bend, I promise we will get to that, but I want to start here.
I want to start with a story about Bill Buckner.
For those unacquainted, Bill Buckner let a ground ball go through his legs in the 1986 Worlds Series for our younger audience.
After the error, the Mets would defeat the Red Sox, Buckner’s team, and claim the title in game 7.
Buckner would be the most excellent scapegoat in sports of the 20th century.
However, disturbingly enough, Buckner, two weeks before the series with the Mets in an interview with Don Shane from WBZ-TV, said, “The dreams are that you’re going to have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you are going to let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs.”
To squash all assumptions, no, this story is not about manifestation.
It’s about mentality.
Marcus Freeman, a week ago, took over as the head football coach for Notre Dame.
In his opening statement to the media upon accepting this most prestigious position, Freeman did anything but what the media has seen over the years.
Instead of promising championship runs and accomplishing unimaginable feats, Freeman, in his opening remarks, made clear that his primary concern was to ensure that everyone knew that the primary driver of success for Notre Dame Football would be the players.
“Being the leader of this program is about understanding that to be successful on this journey, it’s going to take others, and we’re going to have to do this as a team.”
Freeman, above all, has maintained the view that at the heart of Notre Dame football is a set of values reflective of the university’s education and institution.
When we generally look at the broader population of collegiate athletes, the identity of the players, fans, coaches, and community is that they came here to play sports.
But Freeman has reminded his players and the nation that athletes, despite previous identities, do not come to Notre Dame to play football.
They don’t even come to contribute to change.
They come to be changed by Notre Dame.
Freeman has taken the typical achievement-based reward system within sports that convince athletes that they’ll only receive love, acceptance, and notoriety from on-field success and now challenges the men in his program to see themselves as a part of something much bigger than football.
Yes, football is important. And Freeman doesn’t take that for granted.
But as the “players coach,” he reminds his team and us all that football is just something they do.
The overall manner in which his team handles themselves academically, socially, and spiritually is what he seems to demand the high standards of most.
Wins and national championships will be the byproduct of developing mentally consistent and strong players.
Although Marcus Freeman could be some verbal general or someone who knows how to say all the right things, Freeman seems to truly understand the depth of an athlete’s mind beyond most.
So back to Buckner for a moment.
Buckner’s nightmare comments made shortly before making one of the most unforgettable errors in baseball history raise the question that making that error was not one of his worst nightmares. Would the outcome be different that night?
None of us can answer that.
However, I believe athletes’ identities mustn’t be contingent upon the results of a game.
As Marcus Freeman makes his debut shortly in the Fiesta Bowl, could Notre Dame’s new leader bring the Irish their national championship with the approach to developing high-level people before athletes?
In the spirit of sport romanticism, boy, I hope so.
You can catch Marcus Freeman’s debut on January 1, 2022, as Oklahoma State takes on Notre Dame on ESPN.
We wish you all a very happy and blessed holiday season!
Addressing the Future of Baseball in 2021
QnA with 50 Year MLB Coach and Scouting Veteran, Jerry Weinstein.
This week I caught up with Jerry Weinstein, a long-time baseball buff, to say the very least. Jerry began his coaching career back in 1966 as a freshman coach at UCLA, and today, after an unprecedented coaching run that found him atop leading Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, he now finds himself a part of The Colorado Rockies Player Development System as a Scouting Special Assistant.
With fifty-plus years of experience in the game of baseball at the highest level, I thank Jerry for answering our audience’s question amidst a time of significant adjustment for the game of baseball. Upon receiving this great opportunity, I wanted to hear from our audience and have their questions answered by Jerry. Dictated by your questions, this was the extent of our conversation:
What behavioral issues do you run into with players at the professional level, and what can we do as coaches when we have these players younger to foster better habits or character?
“We have fewer behavioral issues at the pro level because there is so much internal competition & there are really no fallback options. The organization has the leverage. With that being said, it’s all about choices & owning those choices realizing that there are consequences for poor choices. Transfer of blame is not an option. The key is establishing standards of behavior & consistently holding the athletes to those standards.”
What are we doing now in the industry that is hurting participation and the retention of good athletes in the game of baseball? As we witness, athletes to the likes of Kyler Murray choose not to pursue baseball professionally.
“Retention-Make it fun. Connect with the players as people & not just players. Be positive. Know what you are doing. Allow for individual differences. Be organized & have enough help to keep players moving in small groups. Short-tempo practices & games. Make it competitive. Player-centric environment. It’s more about them than the scoreboard. It’s a collaborative effort between players, coaches & parents.”
What are your thoughts on the game of baseball missing out on talented players with the shortened draft and college rosters overflowing? With 1,525 draft selections in 2010 and only 160 in 2020…
Professional baseball does not miss very often. Maybe they don’t get slotted the way they end up, but good players do not go unseen. If they are playing somewhere, they will be seen. It may be in an Indy League where many late bloomers & players from lower-profile programs thrive. If they have tools or are playing up to professional standards, they will be seen. The problem lies in the fact that we are losing a lot of the better athletes to other sports. We need to do a better job of attracting those athletes & retaining them. MLB is making a real effort in that area in the inner cities with its RBI program. I’m concerned that the current Travel Team movement has priced a lot of the economically challenged families out.
I want to once again thank Jerry for his priceless insight and wisdom. His generosity in answering these questions I know will go a long way for our audience memebers. The game of baseball, perhaps having always faced unprecedented times, now faces reconstruction and rebranding efforts post pandemic. With the universal designated hitter (DH) now active in both the American and Nation League, the game of baseball now looks to another evolution in rules for greater growth amongst fan bases and most imporantly, youth. Baseball’s ability to keep promising athletes in the sport will set the horizon the future of baseball is destined for.
The San Francisco Giants 107 Win Season Should Be Remembered for More Than Painful Ending
Recapping the Incredible Run of the 2021 San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants season came to an end in game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past week.
The game ended in San Francisco with the Giants down just one run on a check swing appealed and called a strike against the hot bat of Wilmer Flores. It is by no means a surprise that much of sports media has run with the Giants’ season-ending call.
Some even rank the Giants among the top teams in MLB history to have the most painful season-ending loss. But the fact of the matter is the ’21 Giants might have pulled off one of the most impressive seasons in MLB History.
From the resurrection of Buster Posey to the resurgence of past greats like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, Gabe Kapler’s squad should be beyond proud of their efforts. Kapler not only led his team to 107 wins after the team had finished with losing records for the last four years but utilized vital players off the bench like Donovan Solana and Austin Slater to plot many late-inning comebacks.
The ’21 Giants also saw the birth of unlikely heroes unforeseen going in Spring Training like Kris Bryant, who was picked up at the trade deadline, and LaMonte Wade Jr., whose late-inning heroics all year, earned him the title “Late Night Lamonte.”
Overall, to let the Giant’s season go to waste or be manipulated to provoke fan and public reaction because of one “highly disputed” call would be an act of great injustice. The fact also remains that no one game comes down to any single call; the Giants had missed out on multiple scoring opportunities before the 2-1 deficit.
And at the end of the day, the Dodgers had just played better baseball that evening; Gabe Kapler said after the game, “I have no regrets, congratulations to that very talented squad on the other side.” We hope to acknowledge the magic the San Francisco Giants created this season for the fans and world of baseball and remind people never to be swayed by the narratives of “BLOWN CALL RUINS SEASON” columns and tabloids. Congratulations to the 2021 San Francisco Giants!