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Votto Openly Discusses Anxiety

June 26, 2009

Joey Votto openly discusses his issues with anxiety and depression

Joey Votto openly discusses his issues with anxiety and depression to the public.

Hat tip goes to Justin, one of my favorite Baseball bloggers out there. There’s been some recent press recently about players being placed on the disabled list due to anxiety (Zack Greinke, Dontrelle Willis, Khalil Greene, etc.), and this is the first full-length public announcement I’ve seen from a player. Joey Votto explains:

“As some of you know, my father passed away last August. The first day back I kind of put that all on the back burner and just played baseball all the way to the end of September. I don’t want to use the word suppress because he was in my thoughts and I was dealing with it on a daily basis. But, as powerful a moment that is to lose your father so young, in a way I did suppress it. From August to the beginning of spring training, I was pretty severely depressed. I was dealing with the anxiety of grief and sadness and fear. Every emotion you can imagine that everyone goes through.

“I had a really difficult time with it. I was by myself down in Florida. I just was really looking forward to baseball. When baseball started up in February, I kind of did the same thing I did last August and threw it all on the side, threw all my emotions on the back burner and played baseball.

“I got sick in May. I had the upper respiratory thing and the ear infection. It was taking the time away from baseball and recovering from being sick when for the first time all emotions that had been pushing to the side that I had been dealing with and struggling with in the winter hit me. They hit me a hundred times more than I had been dealing with.

“I was taken out of three separate games. The first game it was a combination of me being ill. But I could tell there was something going on. I couldn’t recover. I had this feeling of anxiety. I had this feeling in my chest. The second time I came out in San Diego, it was similar. But I was healthy and I felt like I could’ve played.

“The third time was in Milwaukee, and I was totally overwhelmed.

“I spoke to some doctors. They came to the conclusion I was dealing with obviously being depressed and anxiety and panic attacks. They were overwhelming to the point where I had to go to the hospital on two separate occasions. Once in San Diego and once – nobody had been told about – but I went to the hospital once in Cincinnati when the team was on the road.

“It was a very, very scary and crazy night. I had to call 911 at 3 or 4 in the morning. It was probably the scariest moment I ever dealt with in my life. I went to the hospital that night.

“The days I was taken off the field were little, miniature versions of what I was dealing with by myself. Ever since I’ve been on the DL and even the little bit before the DL, I’ve been really struggling with this in my private life. I’d go on the field and try to do my best and play well. I had my spurts when I’d play well. But going out on the field . . . I couldn’t do it anymore because I was so overwhelmed physically by the stuff I was dealing with off the field.

“It finally seeped its way into the game. I just had to put an end to it. I really couldn’t be out there. It’s difficult to explain what I was going through. I couldn’t do it. I physically couldn’t do my job. That’s what I’ve gone through.

“I’ve been talking and seeing some doctors. They’ve been a great help. And speaking to people in general – I spoke to my team last week – and letting people know what I’ve been dealing with and how difficult this grieving process has been. My father was young, and I’m a young man. I really wish I hadn’t lost my father so young. I’m the oldest brother. I feel like I’m responsible for my family. Maybe I have a proclivity for depression or whatever it is.

“But I was dealing with some pretty abnormal circumstances – the combination of being a major league ballplayer, a young ballplayer and also dealing with my father and my family.”

I think it’s about time that organizations begin to recognize anxiety disorders as a legitimate reason to use the disabled list—there simply is no valid reason to hide psychological disorders with random ailments, unless the player specifically requests that information remain private. There’s no reason to be ashamed of having a psychological disorder. I myself have suffered from social anxiety disorder for a number of years, and am currently undergoing treatment for it. There seems to be a stigma attached to anxiety and depression, particularly in professional sports. I suppose it’s an ego thing. Everyone, regardless of profession, is susceptible to anxiety or depression—professional athletes are no different than you or I, except their successes and failures are magnified on a national scale. It makes me wonder how many professional athletes are playing through these disorders and are simply trying to “tough it out.”

Zack Greinke was the first current player to admit to his battle with social anxiety disorder and depression, and other players are beginning to follow suit. It makes me happy to hear these players coming forward to discuss their personal problems.

Athletes are not images on a television screen, nor are they numbers on a spreadsheet. They’re just like everyone else.

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