In the past seven years, I have highlighted in the Sports Doing Good newsletter and blog more than 4,000 stories of the “good.” This has included everything from on-the-field performances, work by non-profits, team and league programs reaching out to their fan bases, and of course, people overcoming challenges in their lives, big and small, to accomplish something important in their life. For this last category of stories, it is fair to think when overcoming “challenges,” we are talking about those physical in nature. Those are the ones that are the most obvious – someone’s physical challenge – is usually very easy to see. But, of course, it is not all about the physical. And throughout society, we are starting to see that realization and the deserved confronting of those issues mental or emotional in nature.
According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffers from some mental illness. That is just adults. When we consider the figures from the National Institute for Mental Health with respect to those 18 and under, we are talking about millions more. And with both groups, there is the reality that many more family, friends, and colleagues of those suffering are impacted as well. So, what we are talking about is not a minor issue.
The challenge with any issue of this magnitude is just how do you address it. There are many causes leading to the problem and factors that can make it hard to solve it, at least “solve” in that we lessen the negative impact if we don’t eradicate the problem completely (probably not a reasonable goal). But just because the problem is big, doesn’t mean we give up. And thankfully, throughout society, including from the world of sports, at Sports Doing Good we have seen many individuals and organizations take on this challenge both directly and indirectly.
Much of the belief in the value of sports is derived from the reality, much proved through research, that sport has a positive impact on both youth and adults in every way, physically, emotionally, mentally, and even professionally in our work life. If you want someone to have a chance at a good life, to be happy, it is a good idea to expose them to sports. And every week in the newsletter, I get to feature organizations doing just that. It is amazing. So many non-profits being led by folks, many of whom are volunteering their time, working to get kids involved in sports, whether they be the “traditional” ones, like baseball, basketball, football and soccer, to emerging ones such as rugby, squash, and cricket. For these groups, just getting kids playing sports is a huge achievement. But many of these groups and others go even further by integrating lessons in sportsmanship, conflict resolution, AIDS/HIV education, environmentalism, and academic achievement. The work being done by these groups is of paramount importance as we have seen the problems in society for when young people are not taught such lessons.
But as was mentioned before, this is not an issue exclusive to one age group. Mental health is important at every stage of life. It is also important no matter what your job is or how much money you make. Something we have seen in the past couple of years is the discussion of mental health by those at the highest levels of sport, e.g. college and professional ranks. Success and money don’t guarantee health. In fact, they sometimes compromise our well-being. But taking a stand on mental health has not been easy, the idea being, if you are talking about it means you have the problem, and if you have a mental health problem, you are to be avoided. Thankfully we are seeing higher profile persons in sports speak out on the issue, many times admitting to their own struggles and desire to help those who may be experiencing challenges, e.g. NFL All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall. We are seeing professional organizations in sports, e.g. Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, World Wrestling Entertainment muster up resources to work with individuals and organizations trying to minimize the destructive activity of bullying. And we are seeing practice and thought leaders like Up2Us Sports and Edgework Consulting partner to tackle the difficult problems associated with trauma. Each and all of these efforts are bringing us further along when it comes to finding and implementing solutions.
As we continue to highlight positivity in sports, we have no doubt that we will see even more, not less, stories that speak to mental health and the advances made at every level in society in the U.S. and around the world. Mental health and well-being is that important and sports has a power to make a difference.
Sarbjit “Sab” Singh is an assistant professor of sport management at Farmingdale State College (NY) and the publisher of Sports Doing Good.