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Anxiety in professional sports.

Posted Jul 21 2009 10:32pm

It's the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, the bases are loaded, and the count is full. Picture the pitcher, alone atop his mound, preparing to succeed or fail in the most transparent way possible. Or else picture the whistle blowing and the point guard approaching the free throw line in the waning seconds of a seesaw playoff game. Or picture the golfer who needs a birdie putt to win the match, crouching to study the slope of the green, then meticulously removing twigs from the line he's chosen.

Athletes face pressure every time they step on the field, or the court, or wherever it is that they play their game. Those who can't deal with pressure don't make it very far, no matter how gifted they are physically. But it turns out that even world-class athletes are not immune from the effects of stress. They may make a whole lot more money than the rest of us, but they can have panic attacks, too:
Three professional baseball players have landed on the disabled list this season for a problem they can't ice, bandage or have surgically repaired: anxiety.

Acknowledging debilitating psychological issues represents a significant shift for a sport that historically has emphasized "gutting it out" rather than admitting to injury. The problem may be as old as the pastime, but acceptance of mental-health issues in Major League Baseball has only emerged in the last few years.

Baseball's anxious include Detroit pitcher Dontrelle Willis, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene and Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, who all spent weeks on the disabled list spring for mental-health issues. Mr. Willis, who returned to the lineup in May, was placed on disabled status again in mid-June for anxiety...

Professional athletes in other sports have acknowledged debilitating anxiety, though often the disclosures have come after retirement. National Football League running back Ricky Williams suffered severe social anxiety. Another onetime NFL star, Herschel Walker, disclosed in a 2008 book that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, formerly called multiple personality disorder.

Boxer Mike Tyson has said he experiences chronic depression, as has National Basketball Association player Vin Baker. Olympic road-cycling champion Tyler Hamilton revealed he suffered from clinical depression shortly before being banned from the sport this spring for eight years, effectively ending his career.

Sadly, the average fan can be pretty unsympathetic. Consider the comments to this USA Today article about anxiety in baseball. A sample:
I think the anxiety and stress is warranted for how much these athletes make. MAN UP OR LEAVE SO SOMEBODY ELSE WHO CAN HANDLE IT CAN HAVE A SHOT!
Keep seeing your therapist it's not like you can't afford to have one on the plane with you.

I'd like to help these poor bewildered souls. Send me 50% of the $ you get for playing a kid's game and I'm sure that will take some of the pressure off. It must be hell making in one year what most mortals can't make in a lifetime and in such a critically important position in society-- they can cure cancer or do brain surgery--right?

This is all a joke, right? A Candid Camera type stunt to see how many of us gullible fans you can catch and say "Gotcha"! That is the only explanation I can see for tryiing to claim grown men being paid millions of dollars to play a kids' game have "anxiety attacks". Hmm.....I think I'll buy that Porsche over there...no, no wait, I want the Jaguar.....no no....oh darn.....I just can't make up my mind!! I AM UNDER SO MUCH STRESS TRYING TO DECIDE HOW TO SPEND MY MILLIONS!!

Guess we still have a long way to go before the average Joe "gets it" when it comes to anxiety disorders.
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