Still far to go to battle stigma

It’s easy to believe there’s a sea change coming to the sports world.
It seems to be starting with head injuries as various leagues are taking a serious look at the effects of concussions on players.
As well, it seems ground is being broken in terms of sexual preference, as former NBA player John Amaechi came out of the proverbial closet in 2007.
In the hockey world, Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, a bastion of heterosexuality, made headlines this summer when he participated in Toronto’s Gay Pride parade in memory of his late son, Brendan.
And the Chicago Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup to its city’s parade.
There’s still a long way to go, to be sure, but at least cracks are starting to show in the walls of intolerance.
Another area, certainly, is in the realm of mood disorders, which came to light this week when pitcher Zack Greinke was dealt from the Kansas City Royals to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
Greinke missed part of the 2006 season after being diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, but came back to the game and captured the 2009 Cy Young Award as the American League’s top hurler.
When it became apparent the Royals were shopping Greinke, though, questions began to swirl about his condition. Would he be able to handle the pressures of New York, should the Yankees acquire him? Is the extra attention getting to him after winning the big award?
If asked in an informed and respectful manner, then these questions are relevant. They pertain to his on-field performance, and teams (and their fans) will want to know all about the player they’re looking at acquiring before dealing prospects and sinking a long-term, multi-million dollar deal into the athlete.
Fair enough.
However, there’s really no way anyone can know for sure. Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated said it best in a blog post days before the Greinke trade went through, questioning the willingness of commentators to become armchair mental health experts.
He reasoned that often we don’t even know what’s going on in our own heads, let alone anyone else’s. So what makes any of us think we can figure out what’s going on inside the brain of someone dealing with a mood disorder that we’ve never experienced?
We can’t. We just can’t. We can try to sympathize, but we can’t say we understand.
Oftentimes, saying you understand is meant as a sign of friendship to someone who is hurting, but not being genuine does nothing to help.
Just because Greinke is a famous athlete doesn’t mean he’s not human. He may be more susceptible to the condition. He may be less susceptible. We don’t know.
And that one aspect of him shouldn’t colour everything he does. Most of us can’t even understand the life of an elite athlete, let alone one battling social anxiety disorder.
But if you or someone you know is in a similar situation, mood disorder associations across the country have resources to help cope with it.
The term “awareness” often is used in place of true action in this day and age, but in this situation, just knowing how to act is a key component of the battle. And that includes members of the media.
Perhaps in the future, reporting on Greinke’s condition will do more to explain it rather than simply note the Royals were able to get the “sometimes-moody” pitcher to agree to the deal.
That terminology comes off as dismissive of what challenges the newest Brewer may face, and does nothing to move society forward in terms of ending the stigma of mood disorders.

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