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Major Sports Leagues Tackle Mental Health Head-On

Major Sports Leagues Tackle Mental Health Head-On

4 Minute Read


·         An increasing number of athletes from a variety of sports are sharing their battle with mental health.

·         The negative stigma around mental health is being broken as major league sports are addressing and bringing awareness to these issues.

·         Major league sport teams are using partnerships with leading health companies as one of the main tactics to spearhead the issue.

The mental health of athletes has been a growing conversation. An increasing number of athletes, including the most notable players belonging to major league teams, are sharing their battle with mental health. The stigma is being broken that athletes must retain issues regarding their emotional, psychological, and social well-being, in order maintain a strong image for their team and in the public eye. It is not uncommon to have athletes share their stories not only through marketing campaigns, but on their personal social media, such as Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan tweeting the following during All-Star Weekend:

This tweet opened the dialogue of mental health on social media where other players in the league, followers and fans supported the athlete. Other campaigns from athletes followed suit that brought the conversation further:

Athletes may be at an increased risk of experiencing battles with their mental health due to the result of injuries, competitive failure and overtraining. Sportsnet reported that 1 in 4 soccer players in MLS are suffering from a mental illness and even at a more junior level, the NCAA found over the course of a year that 30% reported feeling depressed while half said they experienced high levels of anxiety. Athletes are used to showing their physical strength, but being a well-rounded athlete may involve developing one’s emotional and mental strength.

Mental health issues are commonly talked about in our current culture. Athletes that are publicly taking care of their mental health are creating a sense of relatability and connecting with fans as they are interested in how these athletes are handling their mental well-being. This is important for athletes establishing authentic relationships with their fans, followers and themselves.

As this issue has become more mainstream and destigmatized, major sports leagues are beginning to invest in the mental space. Leagues are getting involved by:

·         Creating support programs for athletes

·         Working with corporate partners in the mental health space on fan engagement programs

·         Working to profile current and former athletes who have had mental health challenges

MKTG breaks down examples from some major leagues and how they are bringing awareness to mental health through leading partnerships.


Internally, the NBA has launched a mental wellness program which will allow players to seek treatment and counseling outside of their respective team. The NBA has also recently hired their first Director of Health and Wellness, which will run the union`s new mental health program in Los Angeles.

Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente uses Steph Curry as the face of mental wellness.

During the 2018 NBA playoffs, Kaiser Permanente launched a series of ads to promote the importance of mental health. Their message was to promote that mental health conditions are treatable and those who self-reflect and address these issues can obtain greater strength facing life’s daily stresses.

They use Curry’s personal story from facing challenges in his childhood to being drafted into the Warriors. “Find Your Words,” is the main message from the campaign where the NBA and Kaiser encourage those experiencing depression and other mental health issues to speak up and get help. The Find Your Words campaign also provides resources for those interested.

NBA Partners with Headspace

The NBA partners with the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness app, Headspace. The NBA will use Headspace’s expertise to co-develop mindful training content that is designed for league athletes and employees, across the NBA, Women’s National Basketball Association, NBA G League and NBA 2K League. Headspace will also host wellness programs and meditation sessions that these athletes and employees can attend. The mental training will supplement the physical to better prepare those partaking in consistent competition.


All Canadian NHL teams join mental health awareness initative titled Hockey Talks

After the suicide of Vancouver Canuck Ryan Rypien in 2011, mental health support initiative Hockey Talks was launched to provide tools for not only players but fans alike. Hockey Talks overtook the month of February in 2018 where each Canadian team hosted a Hockey Talks night to support the cause and bust negative stigma. Hockey Talks will raise mental health awareness through in-arena messaging, online storytelling with athletes and sharing information and experiences at Hockey Talk hosted game nights.


NFL partners with Cigna to host an open forum.

In May 2018, the NFL and NFL Players Association partnered with leading health insurance company Cigna, to host an open Q&A session featuring a panel of NFL players (both active and past players), mental health organizations, medical providers and media personalities. The session was titled Beyond the Physical: A Symposium on Mental Health in Sports which aimed at addressing mental health issues before it is too late – also, putting a focus on youth where there is pressure to appear strong all the time where again, we see a major sport league relieve the stigma. Other discussions included pressures of being a professional athlete and wellness programs available to the public and for athletes.


MLB supports veterans through Headstong Project partnership.

One of the tactics executed by the MLB looks externally and is aimed at helping the people outside the league. The league has partnered with the Headstrong Project, a mental healthcare program that supports post-9/11 military veterans, service members and their family members. Through this partnership, the MLB will donate $250,000 which will help to develop more locations to service those affected.

Mental health awareness is on the rise within sport culture and major league sport leagues are using partnerships with leading wellness companies to spearhead, address and solve the issues head-on.

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