Mental Health in Professional Sports: Basketball player Ben Simmons has not played in about a year citing mental health.

Of late, mental health has become a hot button topic in sports due to recent revelations from players, with the most recent coming from 76ers star Ben Simmons. While some are shocked by this, I do not find it surprising. Sports are a high pressure environment. Think about what other jobs people commonly struggle with, mental health wise. The first that comes to mind is soldiers. Soldiers are in perhaps the most high stress, high pressure environment imaginable, and the number of suicides alone, speak for their struggles with mental health. 

It is quite evident that we do not want people committing suicide as a result of their job, but it is not only that; we do not want people to suffer mentally in anyway as a result of their job. Over the past week, Ben Simmons spoke out for the first time after being traded to Brooklyn by the 76ers. For the past half year he had barely played at all, let alone practiced with his team for which the 76ers fined him. Nobody was exactly sure of the reasons for him not playing, but at the press conference, Simmons finally revealed that the main cause was his struggles with mental health.

The major question this situation brings to a front is whether sports are to blame for Ben Simmons’s struggle with mental health. Over the years sports have become more aware of the physical damage their game has inflicted on players, and changed the rules to help protect the players. I am not in the position to judge the moral value of these changes, but I do know that when rules are changed, the sport often loses something that made it what it was. I think this applies to any rule change to protect players’ mental health. A sport has rules that make it the sport it is, and if you choose to play it, you choose to accept those rules. 

Ben Simmons is a basketball player. Nobody has forced him to play basketball. When a man chooses to become a basketball player he is taking on a responsibility and agreeing to play by a set of rules. These could be the rules of the league, or even the rules of the team he joins. He is an employee just like any other employee, and must abide by what his boss (the league owner and the coaches) dictate. As an employee he has the rights of an employee, if he decides that basketball affects his mental health he may quit his job or negotiate with his boss like any other employee. In fact, I would encourage any athlete, whose sport is taking a mental toll out of them, to quit. 

Not everyone can take the sweat, the struggle, and the mental burden of athletics, and that is okay. If Simmons can not handle the pressure of professional basketball, I encourage him to make the choice that is most beneficial to himself and quit basketball, instead of weighing down his team and hurting himself. Perhaps there is athletic shame in this, but there is no shame from the standpoint of being a human and doing what is most healthy for yourself and others. 

Source: Sports Illustrated

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