Several athletes across many sports have shared their struggles with anxiety. From the intensity of competition to the spotlight they face, players must deal with a level of pressure fans will never understand. Although mental health issues were once stigmatized — and still are sometimes — several pro athletes want others to know they’re not alone.
1. Kevin Love
In 2018, Kevin Love shared about his mental health journey in an article he wrote for The Players Tribune. According to Love, he had an incident at halftime against the Atlanta Hawks during an early-season game. He explained that he felt trapped and didn’t know what was wrong. It wasn’t until later that he identified this feeling as an anxiety attack.
Looking back, Love realized he’d been struggling with anxiety throughout his entire life but had been programmed to keep it to himself. “For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem,” the NBA center wrote. “Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help … I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was a form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.”
Love says he’s learned how to cope with anxiety since then, becoming an outspoken advocate for mental health care in the process. His admission was perhaps the most candid look at a player’s mental health for sports fans, but Love is not alone in his struggles.
2. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka saw a quick rise to stardom in women’s tennis following her memorable win over Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open. Those who watch Osaka often see how hard she is on herself. In fact, she has shared about her mental health many times throughout her career.
Osaka told Teen Vogue, “You can easily get depressed. Usually, if you play sports, you think that one match or one game is very important, and when you lose it, you think your whole world is over.” To Osaka, speaking about mental health is part of her strategy to not let it control her.
3. David Freese
MLB player David Freese may be something of a World Series hero to fans, but it doesn’t mean he’s immune to the same problems that plague millions of Americans. The third baseman has been candid about his struggles with alcoholism and said he used drinking to combat his depression and anxiety.
Freese says his wife motivated him to work on his issues. He retrained his brain and cut out alcohol. Freese told USA Today, “Now, it’s so different. I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. You wake up, and you’re ready to face the world. To be honest, I never knew I could be so happy.”
4. Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps has grappled with fame since he was a teenager. While the record-breaking Olympian always seemed to have it together while he was swimming, he has spoken at great length about his struggles with anxiety and depression. Phelps’ struggles with mental health led him to a pair of DUI arrests. He’s attributed therapy to helping him heal.
5. Liz Cambage
Las Vegas Aces star Liz Cambage also took to The Players’ Tribune to share her struggles with mental health. This was not so much a confession as her telling it to a greater audience. Since her early career, Cambage has been candid about her struggles with anxiety. Although she’s parlayed her struggles into a superstar career, she wants to help remove the stigma so more people can get help.
6. DeMar DeRozan
Before Love came out with his struggles, fellow NBA star DeMar DeRozan made headlines after tweeting about his depression. Since then, the San Antonio Spurs player has discussed his anxiety, mental health stigma in sports, and how he wants to help everyone feel comfortable sharing.
7. Dorothy Hamill
Once an acclaimed Olympic figure skater, Dorothy Hamill was dubbed America’s Sweetheart. Recently, she became an advocate for mental health after speaking about the stress that came with her celebrity status. This pressure led to self-esteem issues that still haunt Hamill decades later.