Last year was the year of Josh Hamilton. By the time the All-Star game rolled around, you couldn’t turn on ESPN or hit the internet without running face-first into one of the ubiquitous pieces on Hamilton and his recovery from depression and drug addiction. In fact, I think that my colleague, Mr. Lung, may have actually written the best piece I read on the subject.
However, it seems that our esteemed sportswriters may have missed Jeff’s column because the same thing is happening again. This year’s poster-boy is Zack Greinke and even places like Deadspin have begun to focus on his issues along with those of guys like Dontrelle Willis and define them accordingly.
Now, I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, it is important to destigmatize issues like depression and drug abuse by talking about them. And when athletes come forward and admit even off-handedly that they, too, face these kinds of demons, it’s good for our awareness of the issue. But, when their whole story then becomes boiled down to a point where we see them only as the guy who fought depression or the guy who overcame his drug dependency, we eliminate all the gains and just create a new stigma. They are no longer people. Instead, they become the disease they defeated.
This issue is all the more important because it affects more than just athletes. Thousands of our friends and family members are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan having seen and experienced things that are truly beyond human comprehension. But when the inevitable depression and its symptoms like PTSD and drug abuse start to rear their heads, the stigma keeps them from being able to seek help. This isn’t a new problem. The same thing happened to veterans of Vietnam, the two world wars and as far back as Ajax in Greek mythology.
I admit that I don’t have an answer to this stigmatization problem. If Sophocles couldn’t answer it and the best minds in psychology today can’t figure it out, it’s probably a little out of my range as well. But, it might be nice if from time to time we stopped referring to Greinke’s “amazing comeback” or Hamilton’s “heart-rending journey” and just appreciated them for who they are. A couple of guys who have overcome the same kind of problems that a lot of us face day in and day out and also happen to be able to do amazing things with a baseball.