Today is the first day of the NFL season for most teams, including the Dallas Cowboys. And before the season even began, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made headlines by opening up about losing his brother to suicide, and his own battle with depression.
Mental illness knows no socio-economic limitations. The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain demonstrated this tragic reality. And the same is true for a high-profile NFL quarterback. Yet because of his platform, Dak’s openness has the chance to normalize depression and mental illness in such a crucial way. The benefit of having celebrities and role models open up literally cannot be understated.
Yet some weren’t impressed.
Skip Bayless, a sports pundit on Fox Sports’ Undisputed, was critical of Dak’s statement, suggesting that it was a sign of weakness to talk about it. His reasoning was that as the head of an NFL team, many were looking to Dak to lead. Yet Skip doesn’t understand that this is leading by example, demonstrating his strength as a person and leading by example off the field in ways that can’t be quantified.
When faced with backlash over his statements, Skip doubled down on his comments on Friday, suggesting that his comments had been “misconstrued.” This statement came after Fox Sports issued a statement that they did not agree with Skip’s comments and that they had spoken to Skip about the seriousness of the issue.
And as insensitive and heartless as Skip Bayless’ comments were, they do actually serve a purpose. They demonstrate just how much of a stigma there still is associated with mental health issues, especially for someone in a leadership role or high-profile position. And he demonstrates why it is so important to keep pushing back on that stigma.
Even if, for arguments sake, Skip’s comments were misconstrued, the idea of telling someone else how they should manage their mental illness, or commenting on the strength or weakness of that person’s openness, is uncalled for and dangerous, especially if the person is as uninformed about mental illness as Skip Bayless seems to be.
One can only hope that people learn not only from Dak’s strength, but also learn how not to act from Skip’s stigma-laden rant. And then maybe, just maybe, we can start to move to a stigma free world.