Pressure

Suicide is not funny.  Yes, it can be a cry for attention or help, but to get to that point, you have to be so emotionally desperate if you feel that your death is the only way to get people notice or have sympathy for you.

It’s also an incredibly selfish act.  Killing yourself because you can’t deal with your own issues leaves those that care about you shocked and broken.

My rant here is obviously due to the Terrell Owens situation that is still coming to light as I write this. This is a sensitive subject for me.  I have dealt with friends and family who have been suicidal.  A good friend of my wife succeeded.

I realize this is a baseball blog and not a football or mental health blog, but one thing that I think gets forgotten in our passion for these games is that these people that we hold up and idolize and make into gods are just human beings with the same emotional frailties as everyone else.  We expect them to be perfect all the time and when they are not, we take it personally.  The advent of fantasy games has only amplified this in that we how the player does in each game personally affects our own competitive passions.

We rip on players, we call them morons and worthless when they don’t perform how we want them to.  Fans have been heckling players since games were invented.  The internet has increased that criticism a thousand fold and has made access to it a whole lot easier.  I guarantee though that the voices in their own head telling them that they are screwing up are a whole lot louder and meaner then anything we could dish out.

I’m reminded of Emilio Estevez’s character in “The Breakfast Club”.  While stereotypical, the pressure he felt from his father and his own drive to be perfect, both athletically and socially, is a very real and common situation.  From a young age, these kids are pushed to be perfect by their parents and coaches.  While they probably wouldn’t be in those situations if they didn’t have some athletic ability, it doesn’t mean that they have the emotional ability to deal with the pressure involved.  Talent and physical ability can get a player pretty far, even to the majors, but at some point, if the emotional ability isn’t there to deal with the pressure not only from outside but also from within, cracks in the armor can form.

According to The Baseball Almanac, there have been 79 baseball players who have taken their own life since 1889.  The majority of these seem to be suicides long after they have left the game.  A few took place a short time after their career ended.  The one that seems most tied to the game and the pressures involved is, of course, Donnie Moore, who gave up a home run and a sac fly that ended up loosing a playoff game for the Angels in 1986.  While he didn’t end up killing himself until 1989, he apparently went into a downward spiral emotionally after losing that game and the team eventually losing the series to the Red Sox.

Dan Thomas was the 6th overall pick in the 1972 draft.  He played in 54 games for the Milwaukee Braves in the 1976 and 1977 seasons.  He reportedly suffered from mental problems and ended up hanging himself in jail after being accused of rape in 1980.

In January of 1975,  Houston Astros pitcher Don Wilson was found dead in his car parked in the garage with the motor running.  Wilson was still in the midst of a 104-92 3.15 ERA career but the obit seemed to point problems in his home life.  The saddest thing about it is that the carbon monoxide from the car seeped into the home and also killed his 5 year old son.

My point in all this is not to place blame with the fans, the media, the game, or life in general when it comes to the pressures that players face that may lead them to depression or even to contemplate suicide.  My point is simply to remind that these are simply people who are doing a job in an international spotlight who are getting paid millions of dollars and whose every move affects a billion dollar industry.  Not everyone is able to deal with pressure and pain the same way and not every story can fit within a SportsCenter narrative.

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