Tag Archives: sports

In major leagues, mental illness losing its stigma

Calling Major League Baseball a “longtime fortress against psychiatry” Sports Illustrated‘s Pablo S. Torre profiles the organization’s recent efforts to go from an organization notorious for its lack of crying to one which takes the mental health of its players very seriously.


Photo by Sister72 via Flickr

… baseball has led the way in supporting a growing number of players who have been brave enough to seek assistance for such problems and speak out about them. “Baseball’s older generations like to say, ‘Guys these days just aren’t as tough,'” says Ray Karesky, a licensed psychologist who has directed the Oakland A’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) since 1984. “But what’s different is just that guys have come out and actually admitted their problems.”

Baseball, with its high failure rates (a great hitter still fails two out of every three at-bats), spotlight on individual performance, substantial downtime and long nights on the road, is loaded with mental health stressors. But it’s only now, thanks to the “cover” provided by those few major leaguers bold enough to come forward with their problems, that players at all levels are comfortable enough to address mental health. The revolution began last year, when an unprecedented five big leaguers went on the disabled list for mental health problems — so-called “mental DLs.”

This number isn’t anywhere close to those reported for the general population—the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year—but for baseball it represents a sea change: Between 1972 and ’91 the grand total of mental DLs in the major leagues was zero.

Concussion more likely when hit is unexpected

There’s anecdotal evidence that athletes are less likely to get concussions if they were ready for the impact before it arrived, but it’s not an easy premise to test. The primary concerns are ethical ones, of course, as it’s hard to justify enrolling patients in a condition that calls for “sneaking up and, when they’re least expecting it, whacking them in the skull hard enough to deliver a concussion.”


Photo by sphilp1225 via Flickr

Fortunately, researchers for a study published in the June issue of Pediatrics found a clever way to isolate those conditions in a place where they “naturally” occur, namely a youth hockey game.

They started by fitting the young players’ helmets with monitors to measure impact data, then let them play. Researchers then divided the impacts into two categories: Those that occurred along the boards where players expect to be checked, and those that happened mid-ice and were thus more likely to come as a surprise.

Chicago Tribune blogger Julie Deardorff, who alerted us to the study, describes the results:

Of 666 body collisions, 421 took place along the playing boards, and the remaining 245 hits occurred on the open ice. On average, the open-ice collisions were more severe than those occurring along the playing boards, the study authors found.

Deardorff then evaluates youth hockey impacts relative to those in other sports, and ends with the recommendation that youth hockey players “skate through” checks, and keep moving instead of staying put along the boards and absorbing all the kinetic energy of the blow.

Focus on hockey’s head injuries grows

Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins takes a look at hockey injuries, especially head injuries.


Photo by Alex Kehr via Flickr

He points to an article in the Globe and Mail about the long-term effect of concussions and what Canada is doing to combat the issue, contrasted with what some places in the United States are doing to better treat and prevent concussions.

The article cites a study in the March 2009 issue of Brain that found former athletes were still suffering the effects of their head injuries more than 30 years after their last concussion.

Tompkins also notes the National Hockey League – which had 10 players out with head injuries in November – is confronting the problem by banning “blindside hits” to the head.

Even pro wrestling has a wellness program


Wrestler Chris Jericho fights WWE colleague Eddie Fatu (aka “Umaga”). Fatu died at age 36 after a Dec. 4, 2009 heart attack. He had been kicked from the WWE for wellness program violations in June. Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Writing for Human Resource Executive Online, Jared Shelly explained World Wrestling Entertainment’s version of an employee wellness program. With at least 22 professional wrestlers (including a number of high-profile WWE stars) dying before their 45th birthday since 2003, the health challenges faced by the high-impact WWE aren’t exactly typical, and neither is their wellness program.

For starters, the wrestlers are technically independent contractors, not employees, and the wellness program is run by a third party contracted by WWE. The program itself, instituted in 2006, revolves around drug testing (both for the performance enhancing and recreational varieties) four times a year, with suspensions and testing escalating with every instance in which a particular wrestler tests positive.

Wrestlers’ contracts are terminated after their third violation of the policy, but they are still eligible for the Former Talent Rehabilitation Program, an anti-drug-addiction prorgam used by about 4 percent of former WWE wrestlers.

House holds hearing on brain injuries in NFL

The House of Representatives is holding a hearing on “Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries” that is being webcast on C-SPAN.org.

The witness list includes NFL commissioner Roger S. Goodell as well as the director of the players association, team executives, doctors, neurologists, retired players, families of former players and safety advocates.


The New York Times: NFL Data Reinforces Dementia Links