Podcast Episode 35: Mental health stigma in sports

September 16, 2020
This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph discuss the incredibly insensitive and damaging remarks from reporter Skip Bayless on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott speaking up about his depression. They also touch on radio host Dan McNeil’s wildly sexist remarks about NFL sideline reporter Maria Taylor. So much for the NFL being better this year, eh? Tune in.
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AP Photo/Ron Jenkins
AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.


Ellen: What is up GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz

Ellen: And we're just two old pals and we're two gals and we're here to give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. Let's get to it. Steph, it's great to see you. My brain is a little bit fuzzy right now, and it honestly feels like it's going to explode because there's so much happening in the sports world and playoffs going on left, right and center and about to start. And it actually makes me so happy. It's fuzzy and in a super happy way, but also this super overwhelmed happy way.

Steph: When you stay up a little bit too late, but you're really stoked about it, that fuzzy memory going on. But Ellen, I see you're wearing your orange hoodie.

Ellen: Yes

Steph: It arrived this week. Mine came a couple of weeks ago just in time for the WNBA playoffs, which started last night, we recorded before either of the two games, so be sure to go and check to see who actually won. Our bet is on the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky. So let's see if we're right.

Ellen: Yeah, let's see if we're right. I feel like we are right. And I'm also so excited about the sweater that it came just in time for the playoffs because it took forever to send. And I don't know if it's just because I'm in the middle of nowhere on the east coast of Canada. I ordered this months and months ago, when this is actually going to arrive? Watching NBA games on Twitter, you know what I wish I was wearing right now? My freakin hoodie. So I'm so excited that finally came in. But anyway, on top of what's happening in the W last night or what happened in the W last night, there were so many things that have gone on during this recording and after this recording. So in the NBA Western Conference semifinals, Game seven between the Denver Nuggets and the L.A. Clippers, I am still shocked that the Nuggets took this one to seven. I truly thought that the Clippers were going to take it. Let's see who pulled through and won game seven, again check Google if you're listening to this right now to see who pulled through, we think it'll be the Clips, but you never know. And then also, while we were recording the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics started, which I'm so, so sad about the Raps and you must be too, Steph.

Steph: Losing to Boston again as a Toronto fan, it hurts, man. If there are any Boston people out there, I just need you to know this pain. Boston in game seven with Toronto can honestly fuck right off. It needs to change soon. This whole Game seven thing that we have with Boston, but I lost my mind. I was like, no shit. It's Game seven in Boston. We're going to do something stupid. Something's going to happen. Anyway, I'm so over to it's just so bad.

Ellen: Speaking of game seven in Boston, with a lot of that fury coming from the Toronto Maple Leafs always losing Game Seven in the playoffs to Boston. Let's switch gears to the NHL. Game Five between the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as the New York Islanders would have happened last night. So, again, tune in to see who wins. Tampa, I think either way is going to win this series. They're currently up 3 - 1. And I think that it will be likely that we see a Tampa and Dallas Stars Stanley Cup final, which could be a lot of fun.

Steph: I'm interested.

Ellen: Yeah, totally interested. And then outside of that oh, my gosh, the PGA U.S. Open is this weekend. It's in New York at the Winged Foot Golf Club. And apparently this course is super hard. And so the players are just going to be so frustrated and they're going to have super low scores. And I'm excited to see this because I have been golfing this summer because I managed to get my hands on a free membership. And it's such a sport that's just so freaking frustrating and annoying. But when you watch the pros in the LPGA and the PGA, they're just so good and it makes you so annoyed at your own golf game. So I'm actually really looking forward to seeing them play bad and have a hard time because it's going to be more relatable.

Steph: Has anyone ever broken a golf club like a tennis racket?

Ellen: Oh, yeah.

Steph: Oh, gosh. I'm looking forward to potentially seeing that. There's so much happening. You're right, Ellen. There's so many play offs and so many things keep our eyes on. But let's get to what we want to talk about today on the podcast. Last week, we gave the gist on what to expect with the NFL season. And this week, we're going to talk about mental health stigma in sports after the incredibly insensitive comments made by Fox Sports journalist Skip Bayless. And they're just incredibly demeaning remarks. So we're going to get into that today.

Ellen: Ok, so Steph, I feel like for this story and with a lot of things that we're talking about, we really need to set the scene of the situation and give the gist of what happened. So last week, in an interview with In Depth with Graham Bensinger, Dak Prescott, who is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, revealed that he was dealing with depression at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and sought help after his brother Jace committed suicide on April twenty third. In the interview, Dak also discussed the burden that Jace went through after their mother died of colon cancer back in 2013, and he talked about his struggle with depression, saying that he didn't know what he was going through. He was having thoughts that he had never had before and that he spoke openly about his depression with his friends, his close teammates on the Cowboys, as well as his family, especially after his brother's passing. Dak also said that by speaking openly with the world and by having this interview and letting everyone kind of listen in on how he's been feeling, that he hopes that his stories can help others, citing that mental health is a huge issue and a real thing in our world right now. And it's important to talk to people to get help. Here's a bit of a clip from the interview with Dak.

Dak: As much as you want to ask why, I know my brother and as we said, he had a lot of burdens on him. He had a lot of tough things. And my sense of saying that is it showed me how vulnerable we have to be as humans, how open we have to be, because our adversity, our struggles, what we go through is always going to be too much for ourselves and maybe too much for even one or two people. But never too much for a community or never too much for the people in the family that you love.

Steph: It is so brave and important for him to speak openly about this and to speak so openly about his struggles with mental health, especially as an athlete and during National Suicide Prevention Week in Canada. Dak is  27 years old, and both Ellen and I are also 27 years old. And I just couldn't help but think about how Dak's vulnerability could help so many of the men in my life and I'm sure in your life and how much that is so needed right now during this week and during a pandemic.

Ellen: Yeah, and I think that it's always something that we need to be speaking about more and being open to this conversation more. And as you said, so brave. And a lot of people in the media applauded him for his honesty, for his vulnerability, and also for just his genuine want to help people and genuine want to talk about a story in order to help others. But, of course, one old school football culture guy, a white male Fox Sports reporter, Skip Bayless, took the opposite reaction of the rest of the media about Dak. We have a clip of his reaction to Dak’s interview here. And it's incredibly infuriating.

Skip: You're commanding a lot of young men and some older men and they're all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team because of all that, I don't have sympathy for him going public with "I got depressed."

Steph: There are just so many things wrong with this. The clip included as well as everything else that he said in this segment, Skip's comments were completely ignorant. And what he said is so emblematic of a larger problem that the world of research might call a "masculine reluctance towards self care." Research shows that men who buy into traditional notions of masculinity are less likely to seek formal help when it comes to their mental health than a man who has flexible approaches to their gender. So when we talk about this like old school tough sports culture that's so pervasive in football and beyond football, obviously the more that men are forced into these traditional and toxic masculinities, the more likely they are to be reluctant to seek the help and Skip telling people to seek help if they deal with clinical depression while simultaneously shaming Dak, who did actually speak up about his experience with mental health, to me is so counterintuitive and counterproductive to this conversation. Talking about mental health is so stigmatized and so closely tied in our culture to weakness and to shame. I've been reading Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly, which is really great, and I truly wish I could send a copy of this to skip. In the book, Brené says "the antidote to shame is vulnerability." And that's truly what Dak displayed here in that interview. And as the quarterback for "America's Team," Dak arguably has one of the toughest jobs in football. Combine that pressure with the anxiety of the pandemic, losing your mom, losing your brother. It's completely human and completely understandable that he would have been struggling and so brave of him to speak about it so candidly. Back to Shannon Sharpe, who was the co-host of the show with Skip, who was amazing and countered every stupid thing that Skip was saying. Shannon Sharpe spoke quickly to the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness for black men in America in particular. And the effects of shame and vulnerability are so different according to gender and according to race. For me, Skip's comments highlight some of the discomfort that I have with football, with the NFL, which is a sport that is mostly owned and by white organizations and profit off of mostly black men. Mental health affects one in five people. And athletes are freaking people, too. I don't know why we lose that in this conversation. And if we aren't celebrating athletes, especially black athletes, for talking openly about their full human experience, then we're part of the problem. If the NFL wants to talk about racial justice in this moment and allow players to kneel, then all of football culture has to rally around this conversation about mental health as well, and especially mental health for black men.

Ellen: Yeah, and you make a really good point about Shannon Sharpe there, too. He used to be an NFL player. He is incredibly talented and intelligent with what he is doing right now is Skip. And they actually have a show together called The Undisputed, where this kind of entire conversation went down and we'll be sure to link the entire interview in the show notes because we didn't have a chance to link to Shannon's response here. But to me, his response was right on. And the metaphors and comparisons that he used to try to educate Skip were really cool and good. But also he shouldn't need to be educating Skip right now. This is not something that he should have to be doing. This is something that Skip should better understand and recognize what he's saying is dangerous and incredibly harmful. And, you know, I think that it's also important to note, Steph, that this is now the third and about to be fourth, incredibly insensitive and horrible remark coming from an older white male sports journalist within the last month. In episode number 32, you and I talked about Mike Milbury's incredibly sexist comment during an NHL game. And we also talked about Thom Brennaman's homophobic slur. And now we're talking about a sports reporter demeaning a young black athlete for sharing what he's been going through from a mental health perspective. And then yesterday, just because we needed a cherry on top of all of this bullshit. When talking about NFL sideline reporter, Maria Taylor, and her outfit, which, A, you don't need to be tweeting about, buddy. But anyway, Chicago radio host Dan McNeill tweeted “NFL sideline reporter or a host for the AVN annual awards presentation?” So he was basically saying, is she an NFL sideline reporter or based off of what she's wearing, is she a host for the annual pornography awards show? And so we'll link to this week as well, and this comment as well in the show notes. What Maria Taylor was wearing was absolute fire in an iconic shirt. And that's beside the point, because it is none of your goddamn business what she is wearing. And I am just wondering, when will people realize that you do not own women's bodies and it is their agency to wear and to say whatever the hell they want to and is not your place to tweet about it and just to back off. Luckily, in this case, Dan McNeil was fired right away. The radio was like, see ya later, buddy, which is amazing, but we're not seeing that all the time. You know, fortunately, as you mentioned, Shannon Sharpe was in the room with Skip Bayless. But what if he wasn't? And all of these things that we've talked about, these four things that we've talked about in this last month just begs the question of when is sports culture going to change? When are these people who are in the booths and in these chairs going to change? If it must be these people who are talking down at us and basically belittling us and some of these conversations, when are they going to be put through the training and actually do the work to be better? I'm just so sick of you and I have to talk about this so often on the podcast.

Steph: You bring up an interesting part of this, too, which is that age dynamic and that talking down dynamic, because something else that Skip Bayless said that really grinds my gears was this notion that he had to tough it out in his life and he had it rough and he just sucked it up, moved on and therefore Dak should be doing the same thing. And he tried to attribute this to poor leadership and him not understanding the sport of football and how it requires toughness. Dak is showing leadership by saying the next generation doesn't have to deal with this bullshit if we talk about it. True leadership is trying to make things better for the next generation. It's so frustrating to have this culture of talking down to younger people saying "oh, you just have to tough it out because that's what I did." So it's annoying.

Ellen: Exactly. It's like "this is the way it is. This is the way it's done. And it's never going to change. This is the way we do things." That was a good voice too, wasn't it?

Steph: It was. I was transported into a different world.

Ellen: But anyway, getting back to things, let's get to the aftermath from Skip Bayless and his remarks. Fortunately, the man was dragged across media. Fox Sports executives apologized on his behalf and said that they did not support his remarks at all and wanted to get away from him. But here is the issue. Has Skipp apologized? No. Can't see anything. And unlike Milbury and Brennaman and McNeil, Skip is still on the air for this goddamn segment with The Undisputed. He's also tweeting away like nothing happened. I looked at his Twitter and I was like, is this a sick joke? He's live tweeting everything with the NFL. He even actually had the audacity to cheer on Dak. In one of his quotes, he said, "Here we go, Dak. Time to roll, Zeke." Zeke refers to his Ezekiel Elliott, who is the running back for the Dallas Cowboys. So it's just incredibly infuriating how he's like, oh, yeah, I'm just going to shit talk this guy and then I'm going to go on Twitter and just cheer for him. He's truly just seeing them as players only. He is not seeing them as human at all. And the good thing, as I conclude my rant, is that fortunately the timing of him being an absolute idiot is good for us, Steph, because I did some digging and he actually signed a four year deal with Fox back in twenty sixteen. And rumor has it that the four year deal doesn't have an extension yet. So here's to hoping that he doesn't sign an extension and that this gets wrapped up and Fox is actually like see you later buddy. Don't let the door hit you in the butt when you leave.

Steph: Now that's the only math that I like to do. Anyway, what's interesting and also good to see is that San Antonio Spurs star and former Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan, who's previously spoken up about his struggles with mental health, has started some "beef" with Skip Bayless and his dangerous remarks saying that, "Real strength is shown through vulnerability. People like Skip are the reason why people suffer from depression at such a high rate. You're the definition of a punk."

Ellen: That last line.

Steph: Bringing in that concept of vulnerability. Thank you.

Ellen: Oh, I love it. Ding, ding, ding.

Steph: Ding, ding, ding. And other than DeRozan, a bunch of other athletes who have shown their support for Dak have also previously spoken up about their own struggles with mental health, including NBA's Kevin Love, Canadian Olympic Clara Hughes, swimmer Michael Phelps and goat Serena Williams. We don't even need to say her sport. We know.

Ellen: No, no, it doesn't matter. Everyone knows who she is.

Steph: And what it really comes down to here is that everyone is truly fighting their own battles and looking at someone as emblematic and powerful as Dak. It's important to remember that. And I want to bring something back to what Dak Prescott said in his interview, which is this is never too much for a community. We can't discount how much collective support can help and thinking of how powerful it could be if the sports world was one of those communities where people could turn to for help and for support. And I think we can get there. It takes people like Dak to be brave and to speak about their mental health. But it's possible, especially for all of those ways, that toxic masculinity in sports culture does harm boys and does harm men. Dak was really sharing his story to help other people. And I truly tip my hat off to him. That wasn't an easy thing to do. To close things out, if you are someone you know is struggling with mental health, we've linked to some resources in the show notes to to check out and to know that you're not alone. And let's truly talk to each other.

Steph: Ok, to close out our podcast today, we're going to talk about both a WTF moment and also a moment that put a smile on our faces. Ellen kick us off with the WTF moment, will you?

Ellen: Gladly, Steph. I'll keep it short and sweet. So this week I learned that despite all of his public apologies, that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to call Colin Kaepernick. And Kaepernick is the former NFL quarterback who started the Take a Knee Movement back in 2016. And so to me, it seems like all the work that Roger Goodell has done publicly and on the surface is somewhat disingenuous if he hasn't cut to the source and gone to Colin Kaepernick and apologized for everything that he has really put him through and that the league has put him through, too. And I also think that it's important to note that Eric Reid, who was the first player to kneel with Colin Kaepernick, is still without a team this season, despite definitely deserving to be on one, at least in my humble opinion. So I'm just saying potentially no coincidence that these are the two who are still without a team in the NFL and that Goodell has still yet to apologize.

Steph: I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not. Any who guess it's time for a heartwarming moment for us this week.

Ellen: Bring it in.

Steph: Monday night during the Golden Knights and Stars game, I did a double take when I heard analyst Brian Burke speak so candidly and passionately about Quebec major junior hockey league player Yanic Duplessis, who came out this week. Burke said that "It should be a nonevent and someday it will be a nonevent. But it's not a nonevent now." And he's not wrong. There's only about five hockey players who are currently out right now. Burke also called for the Quebec league to be alert for homophobic slurs from both players, coaches, as well as fans and to call that shit out. So major kudos right now to Duplessis for stepping out there.

Ellen: You love to see it. And also kudos to Burke for supporting him as well. That's definitely what we need to be seeing in comparison to everything that we've just talked about today from a sports reporting side of things. That's the move that we need to be seeing. So such good news. And also Steph, before we close out our podcast. I thought that we should mention that we want to change up this segment a little bit. So instead of you guys and all of our GISTers listening, hearing about what is grinding Steph and my gears and what's making us happy, we want to hear about what's grinding your gears and what sports news is putting a smile on your face. So over the course of the next week, we'd love to hear from you about these stories or any personal anecdotes that you have by e-mailing us at pod@thegistsports.com, and you can type out the story or send us an audio note, whatever works best for you and your story or your moment, may be featured on next week's podcast.

Steph: All right, sports pals, that was the gist of it from Ellen and I thanks so much for tuning in. If you like what you heard, help us get the word out, leave us a review and give us those five sparkly stars. You can also tell your friends to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

Ellen: And once you're done giving us those sparkly stars, you have to sign up for our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. If you're not subscribed yet, you can subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, as we mentioned, Steph and I want to hear from you, you can email us at pod@thegistsports.com with your WTF moment, with your happy moment and with any feedback for us. Or you can also DM us on Instagram @thegistnew.ca or @thegistusa. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. Take care of yourselves and we'll see you next Wednesday.

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