Christi Johnson
U.S. History, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Sociology
Material Type:
Case Study, Reading
Middle School, High School
  • Activism
  • Athletics
  • Social Justice
  • Sports
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:
    Text/HTML, Video

    Athletes and Activism: An Exploration of Civic Engagement Through Sports

    Athletes and Activism: An Exploration of Civic Engagement Through Sports


    A project developed by Cornell College’s KIN-200, Athletes and Activism class.  Authored by Caitlin Babcock, Alec Boldt, Cristian Dixon, Megan Gandrup, Olivia Henkel, MacKenzie Macam, Caitlyne Mar, Kali March, Alexis Partida, Ilah Perez-Johnson, Mary Puffett, Kara Rivard, Julissa Rivera, and Delaney Thomas; edited by Professor Christi Johnson. 

    Because of the power that sports have to shape our understandings of everyday life, we explore the stories of athletes who became activists related to social justice causes.  These athletes used their platforms to advocate for positive social change.  We summarize and share their stories here.  In addition to describing their athletic pursuits, our summaries of their stories include key terms, concepts, and definitions related to socially just causes.  We also include short video overviews of the athletes' sporting lives and social activism. 

    Editor's Note


    A project developed by Cornell College’s KIN-200, Athletes and Activism class.  Authored by Caitlin Babcock, Alec Boldt, Cristian Dixon, Megan Gandrup, Olivia Henkel, MacKenzie Macam, Caitlyne Mar, Kali March, Alexis Partida, Ilah Perez-Johnson, Mary Puffett, Kara Rivard, Julissa Rivera, and Delaney Thomas; edited by Professor Christi Johnson. 


    Sports are a significant part of American life.  Athletes and sporting events provide people with entertainment, excitement, emotional engagement, even ways to identify ourselves. Increasingly, sports are recognized as a platform for political engagement (Rosenberg, 2022) and as an arena for activism for social change (Kluch, 2020).  Sports are even playing a role in educational curricula.  

    This resource was authored by members of a sophomore-level Kinesiology class entitled “Athletes and Activism” offered at Cornell College. The class was designed to meet the college’s core curricular requirement about “citizenship in practice”, exploring intersections between an academic discipline and practical, citizenship-oriented applications of that discipline.  Each section is authored by a sophomore student author as their final project. The members of the class negotiated and discussed how to craft the project.  Ultimately, we decided that readers in middle school to early high school may find stories about athlete-activists to be interesting and compelling. As such, the sections that follow are intended for teen readers who may be honing their perspectives on social justice and equity while building their love for sports. 

    This project demonstrates “citizenship in practice” in several ways. First, the content explores activist athletes  who engage in a type of citizenship.  Each of the stories presented reflects an athlete who has used their voice and presence on a very public stage to promote ideals related to a more just, fair, or equitable world.  Topics range from racial justice to gender equity to mental health advocacy and span several historical periods.  Each chapter profiles a separate athlete’s experience, and each athlete demonstrates a unique approach to citizenship or activism. But, most importantly, each chapter demonstrates various ways in which “activist” voices can function. 

    Another aspect of “citizenship in practice” is linked with the creation of this open educational resource (OER).  As a free, open educational resource, this work is an example of public scholarship (What is public scholarship? 2021).  The creation of this resource itself was intended to be a demonstration of citizenship through the free sharing of intellectual ideas and resources with the intention of supporting a set of broader public ideals. The text addresses critical social issues with the goal of raising awareness and empowering people to speak out about injustices.  As an OER, this text invites the reader to participate in its creation and interpretation.  This open, public resource can serve as a foundation for learning about athlete-activists, as grounds for critique, or as an infrastructure for developing more content. 

    Finally, the open pedagogical approach used in the creation of this resource is another demonstration of “citizenship in practice.”  As young adult learners, sophomore undergraduate students have had limited opportunities to reflect on their own learning process or to participate in designing their own learning contexts to best suit their needs. In the spirit of open pedagogy (Introduction to Open Pedagogy, 2021), the students enrolled in “Athletes and Activism” became co-creators of their own educational experiences. The students suggested course readings, negotiated learning assignments, used class time to explore and reflect on the process of learning, and ultimately agreed on the construction of this final project as a demonstration of their learning about citizenship in practice.  

    As this project reflects the ideals of OER publishing, we encourage remixing, any variety of uses, and building upon this resource by incorporating other pedagogical aids like worksheets, classroom guides, or mapping to curricular standards.  Please credit each section author appropriately. 

    The authors and editor offer thanks for support provided by various members of the Cornell College community including the Kinesiology Department, the Dungy Writing Studio’s Writing and Teaching Specialist, Dr. Jennifer Ferrell, the Associate Director for Intercultural Life, Dr. Tiyah Western, Cole Library’s Consulting Librarians Meghan Yamanishi and Amy Gullen, copy editor Mariel Johnson, and Grants and Compliance Manager, Julia Andrews.  This project was supported by a grant from Iowa Private Academic Libraries Open Educational Resources Project and the Iowa Governor’s Emergency Educational Relief Fund.   


    Works Cited

    Introduction to Open Pedagogy. (2021). University of Texas, Arlington: UTA Libraries.  Retrieved on August 19, 2021 from,through%20the%20act%20of%20creation 

    Kluch, Y. (2020). “My Story Is My Activism!”: (Re-)Definitions of Social Justice Activism Among Collegiate Athlete Activists. Communication & Sport, 8(4–5), 566–590.

    Rosenberg, M. (2022, April 11). Sportswashing is everywhere, but it's not new. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 22, 2022 from 

    What is Public Scholarship? (2021). Center for Community and Civic Engagement. Carleton College. Retrieved August 19, 2022 from What is Public Scholarship? – Center for Community and Civic Engagement – Carleton College 

    Jack Trice: Racial Violence and Collegiate Football by Alec Boldt

    Three quarters into the game against the University of Minnesota, Jack Trice had already faced an onslaught of hate and violence. Early on in the game, he broke his collarbone, yet he continued to play (Schultz, 2008). Throughout the game, the opposing team used racial slurs and gave cheap shots (Foxworth, 2020). Down 14-7, Trice felt a real sense of responsibility to keep Minnesota from scoring for his team, himself, and his race. Seeing an opportunity to stop the ball carrier, he gave it his all and tried to trip the runner by diving toward his legs which resulted in him on his back with a stampede of Minnesota players on top of him. Trice, badly hurt, was then taken to the sidelines as the fans chanted mockingly, “We’re so sorry Ames!...” (Schultz, 2008).

            Trice, the first African-American student-athlete at Iowa State, participated in football and track, and had faced racism throughout his life. All four of Trice’s grandparents were former slaves. Trice grew up in the northern city of Hiram, Ohio, where he was raised by his mother. His father passed away early in Trice’s life, and once Trice was of high school age, his mother sent him to live with his uncle to attend East Technical High School in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother reportedly did this to expose him to the problems he would face as a Black man and to be around other Black students like him, something that his small town of Hiram sheltered him from (Schultz, 2008).

            At East Tech, Trice excelled at football.  Yet, he was still the only Black player on the team. His high school team was one of the best in the nation and went undefeated, causing many of his teammates to get recruited by colleges. However, colleges overlooked Trice due to the color of his skin. Trice was even called by one of his own teammates “one of the best lineman that ever graduated from the school” (Schultz, 2008). Trice got his opportunity to play college football when his head coach from East Tech, Sam Williamson, took the head coaching job at Iowa State University and took Trice and a few of his other teammates along with him (Schultz, 2008).

            Trice planned to take full advantage of this opportunity to get an education, and he worked to realize it. Although Trice’s high school education did not prepare him for entry into the university, he quickly reversed this and excelled his freshman year. He planned to get his degree in animal husbandry so that after school he could go to the South to advise and help Black farmers. In addition to playing football, he worked as a custodian both for the school gymnasium and for a local office building to pay for tuition and to support himself since he couldn’t live on campus as a Black student (Longman, 2020).

            As his sophomore year rolled around, it was clear that Trice was going to play and make a big impact in his first year of playing varsity football. After their first game against Simpson College, the paper called him “by far the most outstanding performer and gave evidence of being one of the best tacklers in the Missouri Valley [their conference] this year” (Schultz, 2008). The next game against Minnesota would not go as smoothly, however. There, in his second ever varsity game, he sustained the injuries told in the story at the beginning. Whether or not this was explicitly due to Trice’s race, we will never know. Some reports tell of the Minnesota players intentionally stomping him (Longman, 2020), while some only contribute it to being a very violent sport at the time. Deaths weren’t uncommon and the tackling style he used in the play was very dangerous (Longman, 2020).


    Trice was most likely the victim of racial violence. This is when people are hurt or killed just because of their race. Trice had done nothing to anger these people other than to play the game he loved, and yet they hated him for it. Even if he wasn’t killed because of racial violence, he was still mistreated and discriminated against due to the color of his skin. Discrimination is when people are treated unjustly just based on some part of their identity (“Discrimination”, n.d.). This discrimination happened throughout Trice’s playing career, even dating back to his high school days when other teams would say no to playing his team just because they had a Black player on the team. Discrimination happened to Trice even at Iowa State, the very place that came to support him and then his family after his death. Part of this discrimination that he faced was due to Jim Crow laws being in place in almost every part of the country at the time. This meant that there were actual laws and practices that prevented people of color from the same rights, opportunities, and even amenities that only White people had at the time (“Jim Crow”, n.d.). Jack Trice was doing something very, very rare for his time in not only going to school, but also by breaking the color barrier of sport. Schooling and sports in some people’s eyes at the time were strictly for White people. Trice never made a vocal stand, but his actions were as bold as could be in his quest for racial justice. While Jim Crow laws may not exist today, discrimination and racial violence still do occur, and the battle that Jack Trice fought back then still goes on. The fight for equality is more widespread than in Trice’s time, and sports has been a platform to do that, just like Trice did 100 years ago.


            After being helped off the field the doctors in Minnesota said that Trice’s injuries were not serious, and he could travel (Schultz, 2008). However, the Minnesota doctors missed how serious his injuries were, and this became apparent when he got to the hospital in Ames. Just two days after the game, he died due to internal bleeding.

    Despite his death, Trice has still had an impact on breaking barriers and changing people’s minds about race relations. Directly after his death, Iowa State stopped classes for a day to have a memorial service, and the city of Ames rallied together to collect money to cover funeral expenses. It also paid for the mortgage his mother had taken out to help pay for Trice’s school, and it provided Trice’s widow with some money left over (Schultz, 2008). This was all very progressive for an all-White school in the 1920’s.

            Trice’s impact still lives on today at Iowa State and even the whole country. Jack Trice is the only Black person to have a major collegiate football stadium named after him to this day (Longman, 2020), and there are two different statues commemorating him on campus. His story even got picked up last year on ESPN’s college game day. Trice may have died a tragic death, but his memory lives on.

    Works Cited

    Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Discrimination. In dictionary. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from 

    Foxworth, K. (2020, February 14).U of M gopher football sports some ugly racial history - Part 2. Minnesota Spokesman Recorder.

    Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Jim Crow. In dictionary. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from

    Longman, J. (2020, July 20). A stadium at Iowa State says his name: Jack Trice. New York Times. html

    Schultz, J. (2008). The legend of Jack Trice and the campaign for Jack Trice Stadium, 1973-1984. Journal of Social History 41(4), 997–1029.

    Wright, B. (2017, October 30).  “Jack Trice’s life and football career were tragically cut short”. The Undefeated

    Leonard Bates: The Fight for Social Justice by Kara Rivard

    Standing in an open grassy field was a little boy fighting for his balance against the strong wind. In the distance, he saw a football and ran to it,reaching out with open arms, hoping to grab it and run. Even though his path seemed clear when he began sprinting, it was bumpier than expected. He slipped in the mud, stumbled over sticks and rocks, and was pushed to the ground over and over again by the wind. Somewhere along the way, a hand appeared, reaching down to help him back up to his feet. He was astonished to receive any type of assistance, but this motivated him to keep pushing forward. When he finally reached the football, he sheltered it in his arms as if his life depended on it and ran until he couldn’t continue on. The support he received inspired him to reach far for his goals, and the impact he made on the sports society was immeasurable. His name was Leonard Bates.

    College sports became more and more complex in  the 1930s and 40s due to racial tensions between schools in the North and South. This caused a lot of controversy surrounding Leanord Bates because he was the only Black player on the NYU football team from 1939-1941(Rothschild, n.d.). Southern universities such as Missouri, Georgia, and Clemson often participated in racial segregation and claimed they would not play against another team that had a Black player (Clayton, 2020). Northern universities such as NYU, Harvard, and Michigan usually accepted their opponent’s request. They called this the Gentleman’s Agreement: a very polite name for a horribly discriminatory rule. Bates quickly became a star fullback and led his team to multiple victories. That was, until late October 1940. Leonard Bates in a football stance

    A few football players attended a student council meeting on October 21, 1940 to spread the news that Leonard Bates was not going to be allowed to play in the upcoming game against Missouri (Clayton, 2020). NYU was scheduled to play Missouri on October 31, and Bates’ coaches informed him that Missouri had personally asked them to leave Bates behind. They accepted. To many of the council members, the coaches’ decision and this “Gentlemen’s Agreement” were infuriating because they had watched their classmate perform wonderfully for months and could not understand why any coach would remove one of their best players. Not only would the team be at a huge disadvantage, but many more students would soon receive news that did not sit well with them.

    The "Bates Seven" and "Bates Must Play" signsFor the duration of the month, the group arranged protests with thousands of students and received signatures from them in support of Bates. They marched around campus, rallied outside the administration building, and made buttons and signs that read “Bates Must Play!” Seven of these students who regularly spoke out with Bates about the racism he faced became known as the “Bates Seven” (Rothschild, n.d.). 

    In modern times, it may seem as though Bates and his supporters were fighting for a good cause. However, society in the 1940s generally opposed their viewpoint. Maisel Witkin, Anita Keieger Appleby, Jean Borstein Azulay, Mervyn Jones, Naomi Bloom Rothschild, Robert Schoenfeld, and Argyle Stoute were suspended for three months in March 1941 for “protesting the university’s complicity in discrimination against Black athletes” (Wong, 2001). It was not until many years later that these brave, young students were honored for their commitment to social justice: 60 years later, to be precise.

    In 2001, NYU recognized the university’s previous mistake and wanted to publicly make an assurance that while change was progressing, it was not yet finished. John Beckman, an NYU spokesperson, arranged an honorary dinner for the activists who were still alive. He described this event as “an acknowledgment of good work and courage shown by members of our community” (Wong, 2001). This not only gave former students a chance to finally have their voices heard, but also made a statement that encouraged many athletes to stand up for what they believed was right. Although he was not present at the dinner, Leonard Bates left an impact on all of those who attended. Before he passed away, Bates left a message for his classmates who helped him make this social change possible. “If whenever you do find them, tell them, ‘Thank you.’” (Wong, 2001).


    Leonard Bates’ situation was frustratingly complicated because of the time period he lived through. For the entirety of his life, he experienced unprovoked discrimination beacuse he lived in a predominantly White city. Systemic racismA plagued Bates’ childhood, tearing apart his life and causing him issues such as not being allowed to play; this still happens to many young individuals today. We may like to believe that things have changed since the 1940s, but systemic racism still exists within athletics. TIDES, the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, has gathered data about acts of racism in American sports in recent years. In 2018 alone, there were 52 documented acts of racism in sports (Lapchick, 2020.) 52 is too many. Any act of racism is too many.

    October of 2020 proved to be a difficult month for the sport of soccer after multiple reports were made involving racism from both fans and players. It was not until star players such as Paul Pogba and Mario Balotelli “publicly cited individual acts of racism committed against them” that the president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Aleksander Ceferin, stepped up (ESPN, 2019).  Ceferin communicated his frustration to The Associated Press, making the statement that if Europe does not stop “fueling racism at matches”, the UEFA would not hold back on punishments (ESPN, 2019). The courage he had to speak out about Pogba and Balotelli’s concerns allowed Ceferin to create a positive social reform by opening the eyes of many sports fans throughout Europe.

    How can activists come together to continue to prevent the spread of negative social norms?B Taking a closer look at the Bates’ Seven, it is clear that they took a risky stance and practiced allyshipC to make a difference at their school. Strength is in numbers; when enough people come together to express their opinion, they are more likely to be listened to. Bates and the Seven, similar to the soccer players and the UEFA President, were able to work together to bring awareness to the importance of equal opportunity and fair play.

    ASystemic racism is discrimination built into the legal system that is based on race and ethnicity.

    BSocial norms are general standards that society makes to create an expected behavior.

    CAllyship is when someone with privelege works with a person that faces discrimination surrounding equal rights.

    Works Cited

    Clayton, E.R. (2020, March 15). “Archivist angle: The ‘Bates Seven’ stood against racial discrimination in college athletics.” NYU Alumni and Friends Connect.

    Lapchick, R. (2019, February 19). “Racism reported in sports decreasing but still prevalent.” ESPN.

    Rothschild, M. (n.d.). “Naomi Rothschild” Activism: The Bates Seven. Naomi Rothschild. 

    ESPN. (2019, October 15). “UEFA president wants ‘war on racists’ after Bulgaria abuse”. ESPN.

    Wong, E. (2001, May 4). “N.Y.U. honors protesters it punished in '41.” The New York Times.

    Eroseanna Robinson: Athletes and Anthem Protests by Alexis Partida

    Eroseanna Robinson was born in 1924 and was known for her talent as a runner in track and field. Eroseanna, also known as ‘Rose,’ was very active when it came to social issues and injustice. She was a social worker who advocated for nonviolent strategies when protesting for things that she believed in. Not only was she an exceptional athlete who competed in well-known track events, she was also an activist who helped make tremendous changes within her community. Before Robinson’s actions with activism, she was a skater. In 1952, which was a time of racial segregation in the United States, Robinson ended her skating career with a broken arm. She then went on to do things involving activism. There were periods where she was arrested multiple times for larger crimes like tax evasion and for little things like disturbing the peace during political protests. Even when Robinson was in prison, she continued to be an activist. While in jail, she went on hunger strikes and risked engaging in violence to do her part in fighting for justice.

    Erosseanna Robinson is considered to be the first Colin Kaepernick by many news articles. Not many people would know that Robinson was one of the first to refuse to stand for the national anthem as a way of protesting. One of Robinson's first acts of protest was a desegregation protest at a skate rink in Cleveland. Robinson took part in an organization called the Peacekeepers in which she helped organize things like protests to help with desegregation. Additionally, between the 1950s and 1960s, Robinson did not agree with the mission of the U.S. military. She stood against the U.S. in regard to the military because she did not agree with violence. She used  nonviolent, peaceful forms of activism and protest.

    Eroseanna Robinson was a powerful Black female athlete. She used her voice and her athleticism to take part in activism throughout her lifetime. Her act of protest by not standing up for the national anthem went unnoticed as time passed until Colin Kaepernick, a male athlete, took a similar act of protest by kneeling during the national anthem to bring more recognition to police brutality (norajunkin, 2018).

    In 1958, during the height of the Cold War, Robinson was invited to run in the 1960 Olympic track competition. This track event was to take place in the Soviet Union. This created some conflict for Robinson, who felt the level of intensity of the war at that time was wrong. Robinson refused the offer to go to the Olympics, even though she was an elite athlete. She was quoted in an article with BINNews (Shepard, 2021) saying that she did not want to be used as a political pawn. She realized that she was invited to compete with other White athletes and believed that in some way the United States was just trying to make it seem like White and Black people were treated equally.  To her, this gave a false image. Robinson did not want it to appear as though her athletic talent could be used for political purposes.  Her refusal to attend the Olympics was her way of taking an activist stance to show how she felt about the war.

    Robinson did not want her athleticism to cross with politics, but she recognized that with the platform she had, she should be willing to take the risk even if it would cost her her career as a runner. Robinson refused to stand up for the flag at a 1959 track event. She did not stand for the National Anthem because she stated that “The anthem and the flag represented war, injustice, and hypocrisy” (Poole, 2021). Robinson did not have the fame and support that Colin Kaepernick did when he did the same act 57 years after she did (Poole, 2021). She faced a lot of backlash, including being charged for tax evasion when she refused to pay money to a government that she believed did not represent her, half a year later. Even during her year and one day prison sentence, she continued her activism by refusing to eat and going on a hunger strike which led to her being force-fed.

    After her brave act of protesting by not standing up for the national anthem, Robinson became more well known in her community and was making a difference by giving people more hope that change would come. People, specifically White men, were not happy with her actions (Poole, 2021) nor the fact that her protest represented empowerment for Black and African American women (Blackstone, 2021).

    The resulting news coverage brought attention to that form of protest in the sports world. Robinson lived during a time in which the intersection of her race and gender left her particularly silenced. Even after she passed away in 1976, Robinson’s story went unnoticed even though it was a significant part of history in regard to protest and sports (norajunkin, 2018).

    What were the odds that Eroseanna Robinson’s refusal to stand for the national anthem would be overshadowed by a male athlete who did the same thing nearly 60 years later? Such an act was seen as something very brave for a young Black woman to do during her time (Poole, 2021). Women should be given more recognition for their actions when it comes to making a difference in the world of racial injustice. Women, specifically women of color, are given even less validation in terms of how much their actions really mean in the eyes of the public. They are not always given the platform to make change.

    Robinson did not let White men put her down when she went out of her way to stand against descrimination and segregation. Robinson took action and used her platform for something for which she felt so strongly. She advocated for issues that would not only help those around her at the time, but would continue to help those in the future, to give more opportunities and rights for Black men and women.


    Other Athletes Who Have Refused to Stand for the National Anthem 

    Recently, athletes have used the national anthem at sporting events as a way to peacefully protest police brutality, racial injustice, and many other inequalities in the United States. Athletes have knelt, sat, or turned away from the flag during the playing of the national anthem. There can be pros and cons to using the national anthem as a form of peaceful protest (Procon, 2022). Is kneeling during the anthem disrespectful? The fact is that it is legal to kneel, sit, or look away during the anthem, and people have the right to do so. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution allows people to exercise their right to make a statement through freedom of speech and expression (Cornell Law School, n.d.).

    In some situations, athletes’ anthem protests are taken out of context, causing a false image of an athlete and their action of protest. For example, the US women's soccer team was accused of turning away from a war veteran as he played the national anthem (Thiessen, 2021). Many people found this act of protest to be disrespectful. Similarly, Gwen Berry, an Olympic track and field hammer thrower, turned away from the flag during the playing of the national anthem while she was on the medal stand (ESPN, 2021).  She did not know the anthem would be played during her medal ceremony, and she was put in a position where her act of protest and activism was taken out of her hands.  Berry was made to feel like she was “set up” to look like a bad person when, in reality, she was trying to bring awareness to systemic racism. Although Berry was surprised that the national anthem played while she was on the medal stand, she turned away as an “activist athlete.” Some people believed she was being disrespectful, and her intentions were not recognized for what they really were. "I never said that I hated the country,” Berry was quoted in USA Today saying, “All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects them. I love my people point blank, period” (Adams, 2021).

    There is a connection between athletes and teams that protest during the national anthem. As athletes and teams continue to use the flag and the national anthem as a way of protest, it becomes more controversial because so many people have a negative view of the action. Many find it to be disrespectful to the country and to those who fight in the military (Procon, 2022). Although everyone has different opinions on kneeling, refusing to stand, or turning away from the flag during the national anthem, the only way to really understand what someone’s true intentions are is to listen and hear their side of the story.

    Colin Kapernick, an NFL player for the 49ers, was the first to really bring this type of activism to public attention, even though many other athletes used anthem protests before him. Kapernick’s anthem protest was to support those who did not have a big, public platform like he did. Kapernick felt that the flag represented a country that oppressed black people and people of color. He wanted to bring awareness to racial discrimination and stated that the police brutality that was taking place at the time was bigger than football (Wyche, 2016). He felt that if he did not do something, he would be turning his back on the problem, so he took action in a peaceful way but was still criticized for doing so.

    Some protest actions are viewed by a society that does not understand the real meaning of the protest and views them as disrespectful rather than a way to bring awareness to a societal problem. So many popular athletes feel as though they can use their platforms to their advantage and help bring awareness to things like police brutality, racism, sexism, and all types of social inequalities.

    Works Cited

    Adams, E. (2021, June 30). Gwen Berry responds to critics of her flag protest: ‘I never said I hated the country’. USA Today.

    Blackstone, A. (2021, April 28). Long before Colin Kaepernick knelt, forgotten Black female athlete defied the U.S. national anthem. Black Enterprise.

    Cornell Law School. (n.d.). First Amendment. Legal Information Institute. . (2021, July 6). Kneeling during the national anthem: Top 3 pros and cons.

    Norajunkin. (2018, Nov 8). Eroseanna Robinson. KNPE 397. 

    Poole, S. (2021, April 6). Long before Colin Kaepernick knelt, a Black female athlete defied the US national anthem, but she's been largely forgotten. CNN.

    Shepard, R. (2021, April 26). Remember the name: Rose Robinson paved the way for athlete activists. Black Information Network.

    Thiessen, Marc. (2021, July 8).  U.S. athletes who protest their country's flag are playing right into China's hands.” The Washington Post.

    Wyche, Steve. (2020, August 26). Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during national anthem. NFL.

    Jazmine Smith: Community Building by Caitlin Babcock

    Jazmine Smith, an African American girl, grew up in Radnor, Pennsylvania, where she played field hockey, lacrosse, and basketball all throughout her youth (WOPAT, 2019). She played in middle school and high school and continued on to Kutztown University with a basketball scholarship where she also continued her lacrosse career. Growing up, she realized the immense amount of opportunities that were available to her because of the sports she was involved in. This made her realize that she needed to make a difference within the sport. Because of her passion for helping young children, she realized that more children of color needed to be involved in sports.

    With these two key factors in mind, Jazmine Smith founded and became the CEO of Eyekonz, a unique nonprofit organization geared toward supporting African American and Latina girls’ participation in field hockey and lacrosse. The organization later opened up to helping African American and Latino boys, as well.

    Eyekonz is located in Philadelphia, where Smith’s goal is to use sports to play a role in community engagement by giving all her energy to the children in the community and showing them what sports can do in one’s life. Smith was able to shape a great life for herself through playing sports; she was able to earn scholarships and amazing job opportunities through her very successful sports career (WOPAT, 2019). Because of her accomplishments through sports, Smith wanted to be able to help out the younger generations of children going through the early stages of their sports careers.  She was, and still is, determined to lead them in the right direction for great success.

    Eyekonz also helps teach the children what culture and community really means and how important it is to be a part of something bigger than just themselves. Eyekonz is much more than just a field hockey and lacrosse club. They strive to teach the children in their program to excel in all aspects of life. Eyekonz allows for the children to further life-skills, academics, and of course, sports performance all while being together.

    The club teaches the children skills like hard work, sportsmanship, self-discipline, healthy self-esteem, and coping skills, which can help them in life and sports at the same time. Eyekonz also provides a curriculum that is designed to prepare them for life, such as classes on African, Kemetic, and African American histories, Hispanic history, etiquette, meditation/yoga, self love, daily affirmations, financial literacy, visualization exercises, healthy eating and lifestyle choices (Eyekonz, 2022).

    Eyekonz also provides children who grew up in poverty with so many opportunities that aid them in finding ways out of poverty and into a better life for themselves. Nadirah McRae, one of the many players that was coached by Jazmine Smith, was able to find success in lacrosse after growing up in one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia: “Nadirah was a top scorer on the Strawberry Mansion High School team and had landed the holy grail for any high school athlete: An athletic scholarship at a Division I school, the University of Hartford” (Van Ott & Huntington, 2018).

    Jazmine Smith and her very successful organization stand for so much, and one of the biggest roles they play in the community is to bring the children together through sports and to provide them with so many tools and opportunities to lead to a better future.

    Another outstanding achievement of the organization is to help benefit the children by providing many tools for them to succeed in school. The organization has partnered with Drexel University’s Engineering Department to create more opportunities for the children to gain access into this field of study. This partnership between the engineering program is helpful for the girls involved in the organization, especially because of the lack of women in engineering majors. This provides women with more opportunities into the major, makes it less intimidating, and eliminates some of the stereotypes when everyone is doing it together. When everyone has access to this resource, it helps the girls and young women to feel more comfortable and allows for help to encourage continuing on in the career path (AAUW, n.d.).

    Along with these tools and resources, the students are also monitored in school with their grades and report cards so the coaches can make sure that they are still thriving in the classroom as well as on the field. Coupled with all this amazing support, Eyekonz also has the children complete community service hours. This ensures that they are creating success, not only for themselves, but also within the community.

    Social Capital- involves the potential of individuals to secure benefits and invent solutions to problems through membership in social networks (Poteyeva, n.d.).

    Community Capacity- the interaction of human, organizational, and social capital existing within a given community that can be leveraged to solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of a given community (Chaskin, 1999).

    Community Building- a field of practices directed toward the creation or enhancement of community among individuals within a regional area or with a common need or interest (Community Building, n.d.).

    Jazmine Smith embodies these three concepts within her organization, Eyekonz. To demonstrate social capital, Smith brings together children from the community to one place that creates new relationships and works together in their sports. Community capacity goes hand in hand with social capital, where bringing the children together creates new interactions and solves different problems of racial injustice that take place in the community. Lastly, Smith and her organization really focus on bringing the children of the community together to create bonds and to reach their goals of eliminating racial injustice that takes place in their community, all while playing sports and having fun together.

    All of the standards that Smith and her organization hold their athletes to are designed to boost them and point them toward success no matter what they are doing in life. The idea of bringing people together within the community really emphasizes to the young athletes the importance of social capital, community capacity, and community building.  Building social capital shows them how much of a difference they can truly make.

    Jazmine Smith strives to make an impact on anyone that she can and does this through her unique nonprofit organization, Eyekonz. Eyekonz has already made a huge impact on the communities in Philadelphia and will continue to make big strides in helping so many more that are in need.

    Works Cited

    AAUW. (n.d.) The STEM gap: women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. AAUW.  

    Chaskin, R. (1999). Defining community capacity: A framework and implications from a comprehensive community initiative. The Chaplin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. f733584dca64/08102018_resource_defining_community_capacity.pdf 

    Community Building. (n.d). Community building. In Definitions. 

    Eyekonz. (2022). Home. Eyekonz. 

    Huntington, T. & Van Oot, J. (2018, April 2). A scholarship was supposed to change her life - here’s why it got derailed. Refinery 21. 

    Poteyeva, Marguerita. (n.d.) Social Capital. In Britannica. 

    WOPAT. (2019). Jazmine A. Smith. Women of Power and Transformation. 

    Maya Moore: Activism after Sports by Ilah Perez-Johnson

    Maya April Moore was born in Jefferson City, Missouri (About, n.d.). Her passion and love of the game of basketball started at the young age of three when her mother put a mini basketball hoop on the back of their apartment door. In high school, she won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year award after leading Collins Hill High School girls’ basketball team to three state titles and one runner-up finish.

    With all of that hard work and determination, she found herself with a spot on the roster for the Connecticut Huskies. During her time at UConn, she led the team to winning two NCAA championships, was a four-time First Team All-American, and was the most prolific winner in NCAA history with an overall record of 150-4. She also had 2500 points, 500 assists, 1000 rebounds, 150 blocked shots, and 250 steals during her time at UConn, something no other athlete at UConn has done (Harkin, 2021). 

    Maya Moore shooting a free throw in her "dream game"

    Moore was then claimed as the number one draft to the Minnesota Lynx in 2011. Only five months out of college, she had already helped the Lynx capture their first WNBA Championship in 2011 and three more in 2013, 2015, and 2017. She had a huge role not only on the court but off the court as well. She has been an ambassador of Kid Power Champion which is an organization that pairs up with multiple well-known athletes doing mission trips to places such as Haiti (Unicef Kid Power, n.d.). They work with underprivileged kids and adolescents to make their lives a little bit easier by helping them with any educational needs and through health promotion. Moore also has a huge role in social activism and focuses her work on racial and social injustices. 

    Racial Justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2021). However, many people experience Racial Injustice which is anytime a person is denied their constitutional rights based upon the color of their skin (Crump, n.d.).

    Criminal Justice Reform means efforts to end mass incarceration, which is a ‘unique’ way the US prison system fills up their jails (Equal Justice Initiative, 2022). “Innocent Black people are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent White people, and Black people who are convicted of murder are about 50% more likely to be innocent than non-Black people convicted of murder” (Equal Justice Initiative, 2022).  

    Social Activism is about doing, acting, mobilizing the resources and supporting leadership to bring change in society, which was exactly what Moore is doing by helping Jonathan Irons with his case. With social media now playing a huge role in activism today, Moore has expressed through tweets her support for certain situations (Gregory, 2021).

    In 2007, Moore met Jonathan Irons who changed her life completely. She met him through her uncle's involvement with Irons’ case (ESPN, 2020). Irons was convicted in 1998 for battery and assault with very little evidence. Although there was no DNA evidence, fingerprints, witnesses, or any weapons used tied back to Irons, as a Black 16-year-old teenager living in poverty, he was tried as an adult by an all-White jury (Smith, 2019).

    After hearing about his situation, Moore immediately grew an interest in Irons. During this period of time, it was encouraged by the government to give harsh penalties to young offenders; however, this penalty may have been a little too harsh. The courts came to a decision and charged him with 50 years in prison. The inequities of mass incarceration in the US targeting mainly Black people was highlighted by Irons’ case. It is only one of too many. Currently, per 100,000 people imprisoned, 1,408 people incarcerated are Black, 378 are Hispanic, and 275 are White (Nellis, 2021). Those racial disparities will continue to be a huge problem until something is done. In 2016, Moore shared with the public that she had a friendship with Irons. When she was not on the basketball court, she would talk about his story through interviews for games, talk-shows, and through her social media pages. Moore chose to have a role in his case through telling others about it and actually using her platform to let others know about this issue. 

    In 2019, Moore announced that she would not be returning to the following WNBA season because she had felt a different purpose in the world (Hernandez, 2021). She loved basketball; however, in her heart, she felt that it was right to focus her attention and platform on Irons and situations just like his. Moore received some criticism from fans who didn’t agree with her choice. However, she received a lot of praise from fellow coaches and teammates. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve expressed how proud she was of Moore: “we are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change” (Gregory, 2021). While raising awareness for his case, Moore helped Irons hire an attorney, Kent Gipson, who would ultimately help Irons’ case. Gipson claimed that the “fingerprints were being withheld from the state and would have demonstrated that someone else committed the crime” (MSR News Online, 2020). Irons was released in 2020 after almost 23 years in prison. 

    Moore gave up her huge passion for basketball for her even bigger passion for social justice to help in Jonathan Irons’ case. By doing so, she showed all the women, especially Black women, that they have a voice. They can make a change in this world. Ultimately, it is unfortunate that Moore had to give up such a significant part of her life for her activism, but that just shows her strength and passion for wanting change in this world. Moore stated, “I’m pumped that people are understanding where the real change lies as far as giving something up” (Hurd, 2020).

    Works Cited

    About – Maya Moore. (n.d.) Mayamoore. Retrieved September 14, 2021, from 

    Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2021, April 14). Equity vs Equality and Other Racial Justice Definitions. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

    Crump, B. (n.d). Racial Justice in America. Ben Crump: Trial Lawyer for Justice. 

    Equal Justice Initiative. (2022). Criminal Justice Reform. Equal Justice Initiative.  

    Equal Justice Initiative. (2022). Wrongful Convictions. Equal Justice Initiative. 

    ESPN. (2020, July 1). Inmate backed by WNBA star Maya Moore released from Missouri prison. ESPN. 

    Gregory, S. (2020, March 5). Maya Moore was one of the WBNA’s biggest stars. Then she stepped away to fight for justice. Time. 

    Harkin, Sofia. (2021, July 20). Maya Moore Biography for Kids. Lottie. 

    Hernandez, V. (2021, March 10). Maya Moore has clear path, but not as far as returning to WNBA. LA Times.,2020%20game%20in%20Hartford%2C%20Conn.&text=Maya%20Moore%20surprised%20many%20in,time%20to%20social%20justice%20work

    Hurd, S. (2020, July 2). Maya Moore, the game-changer: ‘This is the epitome of using your platform’. Andscape.

    MSR News Online. (2020, March 9). Minnesota Lynx’s Maya Moore helps to overturn the conviction of Missouri man. Minnesota Spokesman Recorder.

    Nellis, A. (2021, October 13). The color of justice: Racial and ethnic disparity in state prisons. The Sentencing Project.

    Shaull, L. (2018). Maya Moore (23) takes a shot in the Minnesota Lynx vs Atlanta Dream game at Target Center on August 5; the Dream won the game 86-66

    [Photograph]. Flickr.

    Smith, L. (2019, August 8). Maya Moore puts career on hold to focus on social justice. Global Sport Matters.,spoken%20out%20against%20social%20injustice

    Unicef Kid Power. (n.d.) About Us. Unicef Kid Power. 

    Billie Jean King: Equal Pay for Women by Kali March

    Athletes show determination and grit in their sports. This can be the starting point that inspires them to fight for what they deserve while doing the thing they love. In the 1970s, one woman said “everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have cake, the icing, and the cherry on top too.” This woman was Billie Jean King, one of the most famous female athletes who used her platform to practice activism through her drive to fight for gender rights, and more specifically, for equal pay between the prize money of women and male tennis players. Her activism shocked the world and paved the way for women’s success in sport (Billie Jean King, n.d.).

    Billie Jean King in tennis attire, 1979

    Billie Jean King was a female tennis player, who shocked many people with how amazing she was at tennis at a young age. Billie was born in Long Beach, California in the early 1940s, but her talent wasn’t noticed until 1962 when she competed and won her first women’s double title at Wimbledon (the oldest and most famous tennis courts located in London) and was ranked the number one female tennis player in the world. During this time, there were many civil rights movements taking place in California regarding social justice and the post-Vietnam war era. Issues involving equal rights between different groups affected by the US involvement in the war were questioned and challenged. While all of this was happening, King also experienced personal discrimination for the first time when she wasn’t allowed to be in a picture with the rest of the tennis girls because she was wearing shorts instead of a tennis skirt. This was only the start of her fire when it came to equal rights for women, and being in the middle of the civil rights movement only fueled that fire. During her time succeeding in tennis, between 1961 and 1979, Billie Jean won 20 Wimbledon titles including many singles within that time. She noticed she was more successful in singles and took her talent across the world, winning one Australian title, one French title, and four US titles. This doesn’t even include eleven other wins which were in doubles tennis.

    But during her time astonishing the world with her love and talent for tennis, she noticed men were receiving more prize money and the opportunity to win money than women were. In 1970, the pay gap between men and women winners was $2,900 with men receiving $3,500 and women receiving $600 (Chang, 2021) . Being as successful as Billie Jean King was, she wasn’t the one who would sit quietly and let men earn more recognition and money for fewer title wins and successes than women. So her response was to become allies with other female tennis players who were experiencing the same discrimination as she and help her on the fight for equal rights for women athletes.

    King formed a group called The Original 9. These women were the top tennis players in the country, and they were not going to throw away their racquets to men who had less skill and less success. In September 1970, they started their tournament famously signing a contract on to the Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston earning $1 each (Chang, 2021).2  This movement, led by Billie Jean King and The Original 9, opened the way to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973.

    While this movement was bold and stood out to many people across the globe, the unequal pay distribution continued. In 1971, King celebrated becoming the first women athlete of any kind to make more than $100,000, but this was still less significant than what men were making for the same or even fewer lines of work. Two years later, her fight continued as she accepted the taunt by a male tennis player, Bobby Riggs. He once said, “Women belong in the bedroom and kitchen, in that order” (Greenspan, 2021). As he had been known for challenging women tennis players, King decided it was time to shut him up. This “Battle of the Sexes” showed who was the true king of the court; King dominated Riggs in a three out of five set rule. She did not just prove equality by defeating a man like Riggs, but she took home the money that she had been long deserving: $100,000.  

    Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in a press conference before the "Battle of the Sexes"

    Billie Jean King, after all of her accomplishments and activism pushing for gender equality, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. Three years later she retired due to her age and not being able to perform in the same way as she did in the 60s and 70s.  She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame the year she retired. Even though King retired from the competitive sport of tennis, she began coaching the women’s Olympics tennis team throughout the 2000s. She continued to stay active in the tennis world by coaching young girls in her hometown, mentoring, commentating, and advising on a range of projects for social justice (New York Historical Society, 2021). With all of her contributions after her tennis career, she continued to astonish the world by being the first woman athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2009 (New York Historical Society, 2021).

    Years later, King continues to follow today's generation of female athletes and is the face of how they can approach activism the right way. Her impact has been so inspirational to female athletes in any sport that in the year 2020, the Fed Cup, also known as the Global World Cup for women’s tennis, was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup. The impact she had on many female athletes, in particular Serena Williams who is today’s the top woman athlete in the sport of tennis, is shaping the way for future women tennis players and creating a better world for women when it comes to equal rights and being able to do the things they love for equal pay.

    Women played a major role during the time of the Civil Rights movement, fighting for equal rights, equal pay, and more specifically the legislation to end segregation. This movement was intense in California where Billie Jean King grew up, but since she was so young, she didn’t grasp the true understanding of why certain situations had different outcomes. With men earning twice as much money compared to women in the ’70s, women weren’t able to make a living unless they were with a man.

    The Civil Rights movement brought a focus on equal rights.  This allowed women to protest, inspired athletes and nonathletes to form an allyship together and fight for the social justice movement. Rallying together in the streets or on the tennis courts brought much attention and allowed women to have the opportunities towards what they deserve at the same price as men. Today, the pay gap is still present and, although the Civil Rights movement occurred fifty years ago, African American athletes and women face much more discrimination than White male athletes. Overall, the Civil Rights movement might have passed, giving women more opportunities, but as time goes on, these issues are still present in today's society. One of the main questions that could be asked is “what will the future look like?”


    Works Cited

    Battle of the sexes. (1973). Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs arm-wrestle (Photograph). Skysports. 

    Billie Jean King. (n.d.). Equality. Billie Jean King. 

    Chang, R. (2021, June 3). How Billie Jean King led the equal pay for play battle. History.

    Gilbert, L. (1979). Billie Jean King [Photograph]. Wikipedia. 

    Greenspan, J. (2021, February 22). Battle of the sexes: When Billie beat Bobby. History.

    New York Historical Society. (n.d.) Life story: Billie Jean King. Women and the American Story.

    Norwegian Women's Handball Team: Sexist Uniform Rules by Caitlyne Mar

    The Norwegian Women’s Handball Team plays competitive beach handball, a game that can be played indoors or outdoors. It is referred to in the United States as “Team Handball” or “Olympic Handball” (Team USA Handball, n.d.).  The Norwegian team has been a skilled competitor over the years and will most likely continue to be.  However, athletes are likely to be more successful when playing in the apparel they are comfortable in.  

    When the team went to the European Beach Handball Championships in Bulgaria, they felt they should be able to wear what they wanted in order to feel comfortable when playing, like they did back home.  Unlike the men who are able to wear regular shorts and tank tops, the women are required by the International Handball Federation (IHF) regulations to wear sports bras and bikini bottoms with a maximum leg length of 10 centimeters (International Handball Federation, 2014).  The Norwegian women’s team wore clothing similar to their male counterparts when practicing and competing in Norway but were required to wear the IHF-regulated sports tops and bikini bottoms when competing abroad.   

    Beach Handball Player from June 27, 2015 (CreaDeporte, 2015)

    The women felt it was inappropriate and uncomfortable to play in the sand while wearing bikini bottoms.  One player even shared with a media outlet that, in her opinion, “should be an inclusive sport, not an exclusive one” because the uniform rules created an environment that was unfair and uncomfortable for female athletes (Christriansen & Hoel, 2021). In these views and opinions, president of the Norwegian Handball Federation Kåre Geir Lio supported the women’s team (Radnofsky, 2021).  

    The women’s team did not want to play in a uniform that might draw attention to their appearance rather than to their performance, so they petitioned the European Handball Federation (EHF) to be allowed to wear the shorts they wore back home during practices.  In response, the EHF threatened to fine the team or even to go as far as to disqualify them completely.  The team decided they would rather play in the bikini bottoms than leave the tournament completely.  They played through most of the tournament in the regulation-mandated bikini bottoms while their male counterparts wore nearly knee-length shorts.  

    By the time the bronze medal match against Spain came around on July 18, 2021, the Norwegian handball team had made the decision to risk the consequences and to play in what they felt was fair and made them comfortable; they arrived at the game in sports bras and thigh-length athletic shorts (Radnofsky, 2021).  The Norwegian team knew that shorts were against the rules of the EHF, but by wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms, the team embarrassed the EHF by drawing national attention to the sexist uniform policies.  

    For their act of activism against the uniform regulations, the Norwegian Women’s Handball Team was fined €150 per player, for a total of €1500 (European Handball Federation, 2021).  That was approximately $178 per player, for a total of $1780.  While this was a relatively small amount of money, the fine itself was the problem in this situation.  The fine supported sexist uniform regulations that have no reason to exist athletically speaking; for many of the female competitors, it was simply uncomfortable and restricting to play in bikini bottoms rather than shorts.  

    The team’s actions were in protest of sexism and the value placed on women's bodies and appearances in sports. Many people in society recognized this, as well, from everyday people to famous athletes like Billie Jean King, who fought for equal pay in men’s and women’s tennis, to general celebrities like music star Pink.  The Norwegian Handball Federation was completely supportive of their women’s team, in both their message and their action.  The Federation had no problem paying the fine given out for the team’s act of activism.

    In sports, women and men are often portrayed and valued differently, creating a sexist environment.  Uniforms are an example that can be seen easily throughout all sports.  When looking at men’s uniforms in sports, they are often very simple and functional for their sport.  However, when looking at women’s uniforms, some of them can be unnecessarily revealing.  It often appears that women’s uniforms serve the function of making the athletes visually appealing rather than being functional for their sport.  In 2012, there were multiple issues in the world of female sports.  Before the London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association attempted to implement a rule requiring female boxers to wear skirts in the ring.  A petition opposing the decision gained over 57,000 signatures.  The same year, there was another success for female sports when the International Volleyball Federation amended their dress code, allowing for women to wear shorts and sleeved shirts rather than bikinis and bodysuits (Bullens, 2021).

    According to Jones and Greer, men are more interested in female athletics when a more feminine-appearing woman is pictured playing a sport than a more masculine-appearing woman (2011). While it is understandable that adhering to what the audience wants to see is important for viewing ratings, those intentions must not compromise the integrity of female athletes by allowing, if not persuading, people to value women for their appearance rather than for their skill and talent.  In addition, there is no benefit to these revealing uniforms for female athletes; in fact, for some women, the uniforms impede their athletic performance.  It is sexist that uniforms for female athletes restrict their athletic performance while male athletes freely move with no concern for audiences’ leering gazes.

    Sexist - a bias against one gender on the basis of sex

    The team’s actions were so well received by the public that social media blew up the story and put pressure on the IHF to reevaluate their uniform regulations for the women’s teams.  Many people helped do this by tweeting and retweeting the story of the Norwegian women’s team and adding their thoughts.  Some of those included in the list of supporters are Billie Jean King (King, 2021),  multiple Norwegian sports officials, and P!nk (P!nk, 2021), who made a particularly interesting offer to pay the team’s fine.  Everyday people openly and freely shared their support all over social media saying things like, “WHAT A****** MAN fines those Norwegian women for what they wore?” (Ahonen, 2021); “I fully support the #norwegianwomensbeachhandballteam and their stand to be able to compete wearing more appropriate clothing, to their comfort level”(tiamini0234, 2021); and “​​It is embarrassing, disgraceful and sexist.  You are ruining both the sport and your own reputation” (Westgaard-Halle, 2021).  

    King’s tweet on July 20, 2021 addressing the sexualization of female athletes (used with permission from King)

    News of the women’s handball team’s actions spread like wildfire, catching the attention of everyday people all the way up to popular celebrities, and ultimately the story of their activism got covered by almost all popular news outlets, including CNN, NBC, The New York Times, NPR, CBS, and many more.  All of the attention on the team and their fine put pressure on the IHF.  The Federation was being attacked on multiple sides, being told how unfair and sexist their uniform policy was.  Ultimately, the IHF has since then indicated that there is a “likely” change of uniform regulations (Gross, 2021).

    Works Cited

    Ahonen, T.T. (2021, September 13). On the Pink story cc @Pink - our hero. This is what the Norwegian women's beach handball team was supposed to [Tweet]. Twitter.

    Bullens, L. (2021, July 22.) Tokyo olympics: Female athletes face double standards over uniforms. France 24. 

    Christiansen, S.S. & Yasmin S.H. (2021, July 18). Demonstrerte mot truseregler i EMs sistekamp: – Vi følte oss truet. NRK.

    CreaDeporte, R. (2015, June 27. Beach Handball [Photo]. Flikr. 

    European Handball Federation. (2021, September 14). Disciplinary commission imposes a fine for improper clothing. European Handball Federation.

    Gross, J. (2021, August 12). Facing outrage over bikini rule, handball federation signals ‘likely’ change. The New York Times.

    Jones, A., & Greer, J. (2011). You don’t look like an athlete: The effects of feminine appearance on audience perceptions of female athletes and women’s sports.” Journal of Sports Behavior, 34(4), 358–77.

    King, Billie Jean. (2021, July 20). The Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball team is facing fines for wanting to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. The bottoms [Tweet]. Twitter.

    International Handball Federation. (2014, July 8). Rules of the game, beach handball. International Handball Federation.

    P!nk. (2021, July 24).  I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR “uniform”. The [Tweet]. Twitter.

    Radnofsky, C. (2021 July 20). Norwegian women’s beach handball team fined for not playing in bikinis. NBC News. not-playing-bikinis-n127445

    Team USA. (n.d.) What Is handball?. Team USA.

    Tiamini0324. (2021, July 20).  I fully support the #norwegianwomensbeachhandballteam and their stand to be able to compete wearing more appropriate clothing, to their comfort [Photo]. Instagram.

    Westgaard-Halle, L. (2021, July 14). Dear @ihf_info. Can you please stop the forced bikini nonsense at your beach handball games? It is embarrassing, disgraceful and [Tweet]. Twitter.

    Sedona Prince: Title IX by MacKenzie Macam

     Sedona Prince, a 21 year-old female basketball player, rose to fame after exposing the inequalities for female athletes at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s women’s basketball championship tournament in 2021. Although she recently became famous, her life had not always been easy. The toughness that Prince developed throughout her early life helped to propel her resilience and allowed her to become an avid activist. Prince was born in California but raised in Texas. Her mother was a college athlete, playing both basketball and volleyball at St. John’s College in Kansas. Her father was in the United States Marine Corps (Go Ducks, n.d.). She stands at an impressive 6’ 7” which resulted in significant bullying while growing up. Because of this, she transferred to three different high schools. She was also looked at as a star basketball player, committing to play at University of Texas during her 8th grade year.

    Prince’s basketball career came to a halt after she suffered a broken right leg at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship games. Because of this injury, she had to redshirt during her freshman year. This meant that she sat out of athletic competition and was not able to further her skills. She was pushed by the Texas athletic trainers to be ready by the start of the season. Prince was over-worked and suffered an infection that almost took her life (Murphy, 2021). After this horrific episode, she decided to transfer to the University of Oregon (Armour, 2021).

    During the 2021/22 school year, Prince was a redshirt junior on the Oregon Ducks team and the tallest player on the team. During her sophomore season, she averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game and had a shooting percentage of almost 55% (Go Ducks, n.d.). She led the team with 29 blocked shots and helped propel the team to their fourth Sweet Sixteen appearance in a row.

    During the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Sedona Prince became an activist for equal treatment for women in the NCAA. Although the NCAA has tolerated inequitable conditions between women and men for a long time (Garber, 1992), Prince decided to bring the issues to light. She decided to make a TikTok video exposing the men’s and women’s weight rooms and the difference in their respective exercise equipment. In the video, the women’s weight room had one rack of low-weight dumbbells and a few yoga mats while the men’s weight room had multiple high quality pieces of equipment and training staff. When the NCAA was confronted on the issue, they blamed spacing. However, in Prince’s video there is ample space for workout equipment to be set up. The NCAA also stated that the actual weight room for the women was going to be set up after the first two rounds of competition. This statement was false as the NCAA never actually set up a nicer weight room for the female teams (Mikanen, 2021).

    Although Prince knew that she had a big following on TikTok, she did not expect her video to get as much attention as it did. In a phone interview with a local news station, she said that even though she was not “as big as most of the other women’s players,” she wanted to “stick up for [herself] and do the best thing [she could]” (Brassil, 2021).  As a former college athlete herself, Prince’s mother knew the struggle and anger that her daughter was feeling. She encouraged Prince to use her voice, even if it meant taking a leap of faith. Soon, Prince’s TikTok account had 2.7 million followers and the viral video had over 12 million views.

    After millions of people saw her video, Prince began to receive outpouring support from other people and female athletes that felt the inequalities of women in sports. A female reporter, Sarah Spain, also took to her Twitter account to criticize the food options that the NCAA had provided for the athletes. In her post, she compared the women’s food portion to the men’s portions. The women were given a small container of food that did not look very appetizing, nor was it filling enough for the athletes. On the other hand, the men were given multiple pans of food and plenty to fill the athletes (McCluskey, 2021).

    Kelly Graves, the Ducks head coach, also supported Prince. In a post-game interview, she said “I couldn’t be more proud of that young lady” because she “made change” which is a powerful thing (Armour, 2021).  By having the support of her coach, Prince knew that she had just started a positive campaign for equality (Murphy, 2021).

    Just like any person who speaks out about an issue, Prince did receive some backlash as well. In the comment section on her video, some people stated that women’s basketball is a losing investment, and the NCAA should not put their money into the tournament. Another person commented that the men’s basketball teams get more fans and attraction, therefore they deserve to have more equipment and better treatment. From looking at the profiles of the individuals that commented on the video, it is a fair statement to say that most of the negative comments came from males who did not see an issue with the inequality. The supportive comments came from other women who agreed that the inequality had occurred.

    Inequality between two groups of people occurs when one group believes that their difference actually means that they are “better than the other.” Overall, gender inequality for women in sports is very apparent (Messner et al., 1993). For women, equal resources and opportunities are not always given at the youth, NCAA, or professional level (Women’s Sports Foundation, n.d.). This inequality leads to anger and discontentment among women, like Sedona Prince, who often make their feelings known.

    Growing social awareness about unequal treatment between women and men has made it easier for female athletes to raise awareness about inequalities in sport. This added pressure to be accountable for gender equity will support growth in women’s sports and press the NCAA for change. As for Prince, she is now using her TikTok platform to show the daily life of a Division I collegiate student-athlete and the responsibilities that she has to fulfill. She can continue to raise awareness on her social media so that more fans can see the disparities in amenities that are often ignored.


    The problem of inequality between men and women exists not only in the sports world; it is a problem that exists in the workforce, political world, and educational system. When both men and women apply for the same job and are equally qualified, it is more likely that the man will be hired just because of his gender. Men are still paid significantly more which puts women at a disadvantage. According to the Center for American Progress, a woman earns 82 cents compared to every one dollar that a man earns (Bleiwies, 2020). In the political system, women are often given smaller roles because they are deemed “unfit” to work in the larger roles. In February 2021, Kamala Harris made history by being the first female Vice President sworn into office. In the education system, there is a stereotype that men excel more in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, while women excel better in English, arts, and humanities. This also puts women at a disadvantage because they feel as though they cannot compete in STEM classes without feeling discriminated against.

    Equality issues, like the ones listed above, were the reason that Title IX was created. According to the United States Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR, 2021), Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (OCR, 2021). This means that no person will be denied access to an opportunity based on their gender or sexual orientation. Most workplaces, schools, and organizations have a Title IX coordinator that is in charge of making sure that every person is given fair and equal opportunities.


    Works Cited

    Armour, N. (2021). Opinion: Sedona Prince has left her mark on NCAA tournament, Women’s Sports. USA TODAY. Retrieved September 9, 2021. 

    Bleiweis, R. (2020, March 24) Quick facts about the gender wage gap. Center for American Progress. Accessed September 9, 2021. 

    Brassil, G.R. (2021, May 29). Sedona Prince has a message for you. New York Times Online. 

    Garber, G. (1992, March 11). NCAA study shows gender inequity exists: Hartford Courant. 

    Go Ducks (2021). Sedona Prince–Women’s Basketball. University of Oregon Athletics, Retrieved September 9, 2021 from 

    McCluskey, M. (2021, March 19). NCAA accused by Women’s March Madness players of unequal treatment.” Time 

    Messner, M.A., Duncan, M.C., & Jensen, K. (1993). Separating the men from the girls: The gendered language of televised sports.” Gender and Society, 7(1), 121–137. 

    Mickanen, D. (2021, March 19). Sedona Prince’s viral TikTok shows the NCAA had enough space for an  equal weight room. NBC Sports. Sedona Prince's viral TikTok shows the NCAA had enough space for an equal weight room | RSN.

    Murphy, D. (2021, February 15). How Oregon’s Sedona Prince rebounded and became a crusader for NCAA change. 

    Office of Civil Rights.  (2021, August 20). Title IX and Sex Discrimination Policy Guidance. US Department of Education.  

    Women’s Sports Foundation. (n.d.) Women’s Sports Foundation. 

    Simone Biles: Performance Anxiety and Athletes' Mental Health by Julissa Rivera

    The world knows Simon Biles as the gymnast who rocked how we see athletics. Upon her major showing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she has only continued to astonish her audience with her skill and demeanor (Peszek, 2022). She has been a major role model for many young women and has shown them what perseverance and hard work can do. Countless athletes have looked at her journey and have been inspired to continue in their own pursuits. She has a massive following of young adults looking to be successful and who look to her for inspiration (Peszek, 2022). However, in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she was thrust into a world she was not nearly as familiar with. Taking a step down from American Olympic team events for her own mental and physical well-being had repercussions she was not anticipating. She received backlash from the same group who showed her so much love and appreciation, and she faced challenges she did not foresee (Hackney, 2021). Biles became an unknowing activist and advocate for mental health, being thrown into a world where the flips and turns were not always planned.

    Biles and her siblings were adopted by her grandparents when she was six years old. However, before that, she and her siblings spent three years in the foster care system. Her parents struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, making them unable to take care of themselves - let alone Biles and her siblings (Benitz, 2021). Her birth father abandoned them earlier, and her mother gave them to the foster system in the hope of a better life. Although Biles seems as though she has coasted through life with her natural ability and sense of hard work, she has struggled since a very early age. Biles is very close with her grandparents in interviews, oftentimes mentioning them as her base and strong support system.

    Biles grew up in Spring, Texas, a metropolitan area of Houston and first saw gymnastics when she was on a field trip with her kindergarten class. She watched the complex stunts the teenage girls were practicing. Soon, the coaches suggested she enroll in gymnastics classes (Peszek, 2022). So, she began her gymnastic training when she was six years old. She trained under Amy Boorman for over eleven years. Biles had major showings in the 2010 Junior National Olympics, being acclaimed for her charisma, consistency, and level of difficulty across all four of her events. She entered more junior events and continued to succeed. She was 14 when she made the decision to leave formal education and began to train for six to eight hours a day in order to keep up with her ambitious goals. In her first senior level event in 2013, she won the all-around title, becoming the first African-American woman to do so. In 2014, she won four gold medals and earned a silver in vault. She was too young to enter the 2012 London Olympics; however, she was a favorite in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

    With her four-foot eight stature, and low center of gravity, Biles was quite literally built to be a gymnast superstar. Her body’s natural form and her work ethic has made a great combination. Biles was already highly decorated and a fan favorite going into the 2016 Olympic games, and she did not disappoint. In 2016, Biles became the first woman to win five medals in a single game, four of which were gold. She became the first woman to win three consecutive all-around World Titles in 2013-2015 as well (Peszek, 2022). With such brilliant showings for the past six years, many were hopeful to see what she would accomplish in the next Olympic games.

    In 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, it forced the world into isolation for over eighteen months. Many were not aware of the repercussions it would have. Mental health, particularly young people’s mental health, has been a casualty of that isolation. Many still regard mental health as something negligible. If one is physically capable, there should be no limitations. The pandemic highlighted how much people rely on their day-to-day life and jobs to define themselves and keep their mental health in check.  Athletics is a job, and athletes struggled just as everyone else did. Just as some were removed from office jobs, some were taken from the courts, others conference rooms or fields alike.

    As the pandemic became more controlled, the Olympics were able to get underway. Throughout the Olympic Games, there was a mental health consultant that a great number of the athletes used (Fryer, 2021). These mental health professionals found that the athletes were struggling more than during a typical year. These athletes were suffering from anxiety, performance anxiety, and depression. The Olympic games generate an immense amount of stress and pressure. Some of these athletes will compete in these events once in their lives, and they have spent years of their lives training for them. For Simone Biles, who had been competing with pressure like this for all her life, competition should have been easy. It seems as though Biles’ performance would be natural for her, as easy as breathing.

    In an interview with ESPN Biles admitted to having the “twisties,” a situation where the body and mind of a gymnast are not aligned (Kumar, 2021). This can be extremely dangerous at any level of gymnastics, let alone with the incredible stunts that Biles is known for. She figured out she had the “twisties” early in the week, and there are actually videos of her trying to land a one and a half turn flip and landing on her back. The “twisties” are something that all gymnasts will encounter throughout their careers; however, for Biles, this was not an opportune moment. For gymnasts, having this mindset is devastating and frustrating. One knows they are physically able to complete the stunts; however, their mind cannot get over the hurdle of completing the actual action. A large part of gymnastics is mental and involves trusting one’s body to do stunts that are uncomfortable and take a lot of nerve (Hackney, 2021).

    The “Twisties” are a form of performance anxiety. On the world stage, there is nowhere to hide and no room for errors. Simone Biles was a very famous athlete and the only American gymnast to qualify for all the events. She had become a household name, and her events were always heavily televised and were highly anticipated. The pressure she must have felt every time she took that stage was immense.

    When Biles withdrew from team events during the Olympics, citing concerns for her mental health, it opened the door to more conversations about mental health and its importance. Time Magazine released an article about athletes’ mental health (Park, 2021). Although the conversation of mental health has been gaining more ground, it is still new to many.

    One major issue with mental health within athletics is the stigma that surrounds it. Athletes are held to a different standard than those who do not participate. Young student-athletes in middle school and high school are expected to complete the same workload as their peers. They are expected to uphold a certain standard of academic success in order to participate in these sports. Athletes are often overworked and will push the boundaries of their bodies and minds in order to do what they love. Countless athletes will ignore physical injuries like pulled muscles or twisted joints to participate. These physical pains are tangible, but still are ignored.

    For some athletes, there is a sense of shame in not going out every day, no matter the circumstances and performing for oneself and one’s team. Mental health, unfortunately, is often ignored. It's not something that can be physically assessed; therefore, it's easy to ignore (Armour & Axon, 2021).  It feels easier to push emotions aside rather than seek help. That is why it is so important for athletes with a high stature to speak on these issues, someone like Simone Biles.

    After her withdrawal from the Olympic events, Biles spoke in dozens of interviews regarding mental health and the pressures young athletes face. Taking care of one’s mental health is crucial to developing and furthering one’s skill within the sport. Hearing the stories and struggles of some of the greatest athletes to ever compete is inspiring.

    Simone Biles came from humble beginnings. She trained and made some difficult decisions to get to where she is. She gave up a traditional high school experience in order to fully commit herself to gymnastics. She spent countless hours in the gym, perfecting her craft. All the death defying stunts she trained her whole life for were nothing compared to the trick of reaching out for help. This is not a simple task, no matter who you are. Biles reached out to the world in order to help better herself and to help better her team. The first step in helping athletes who struggle with mental health is to open the door to honest and sometimes difficult conversations. Biles is a gymnastics icon, but she won the hearts of so many with her honesty and sincerity about her own mental health.

    Mental Health- “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood” (What is mental health? 2021). Understanding one’s mental health is crucial to development and performing at one’s peak ability no matter what task is being completed

    Anxiety- Anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure” (American Psychological Association, n.d.). Often, athletes will encounter anxiety when tasked with too many challenges.

    Performance Anxiety- Performance anxiety “is fear about one’s ability to perform a specific task. People experiencing performance anxiety may worry about failing a task before it has even begun. They might believe failure will result in humiliation or rejection” (Performance Anxiety, 2019). Whenever someone is expected to perform a high risk task or tasks in general a certain emotion and feeling can take over and hinder their ability to actually perform the task.

    Works Cited 

    American Psychological Association (n.d.). Anxiety.

    Armour, N. & Axon, R. (2021, July 28). Gymnasts know that mental health issues can lead to catastrophe.” USA Today. Retrieved September 7, 2021. 

    Benitz, S. (2021, June 28) Simone Biles’ family: Everything you need to know about her relatives. InTouch Weekly. Retrieved September 9, 2021.

    Fryer, J. (2021). ‘OK not to be OK:’ Mental health takes a top role at the Olympics. ESPN. Retrieved May 21, 2022. 

    Hackney, S. (2021, July 30). Simone Biles wins by prioritizing her health. USA Today.  Retrieved September 7 2021.

    Kumar, A. (2021, July 30). Simone Biles, plagued by ‘twisties,’ says mind and body not in sync at Olympics. ESPN. Retrieved September 15, 2021.

    Park, A. (2021, August 8). The Tokyo Olympics changed the conversation about mental health. Time. Retrieved September 20, 2021.

    Performance Anxiety (2019). GoodTherapy. Retrieved September 16, 2021.

    Peszek, L. (2022, March 10). Simone Biles. Encyclopedia Britannica. 

    What is mental health? (2021). MentalHealth.Gov. Retrieved September 17, 2021 from

    Katelyn Ohashi: Body Positivity by Delaney Thomas

    Many kids play sports. It is good to try them out, and many play more than one sport until high school. For Katelyn Ohashi, that was not the case. For as long as she could remember, she had been a gymnast and a promising one at that. Elite college gymnasts compete at what USA Gymnastics considers a Level 10. By age 12, Ohashi was competing at Level 11. At age 13, Ohashi competed in her first and last elite level competition: The World Cup (Randall, 2021). She went on to win the World Cup and beat fellow American gymnast Simone Biles, who is now known as the greatest gymnast of all time. However, the emotions she experienced after the win were anything but happy; she was sad and felt miserable. Ohashi was the best in the world for her age, but the only thing she could think was that because she was great, she was destined to be miserable, that it just came with the territory (Neal, 2019). She should have felt on top of the world, but the only thing she felt was sadness. 

    Eventually, Ohashi decided if that was inevitable, she no longer wanted to be great. In her mind, being great also meant taking verbal and mental abuse, believing that she was fat because people body shamed her, and having to hide her injuries. Before Ohashi was a teenager, she was fat shamed on a public level and later went on to develop an eating disorder. An eating disorder can mean many things, but for Ohashi, it was not eating in order to become smaller. This disorder has remained part of her entire life, even after she overcame it in college (Ohashi, 2018).

    She also struggled emotionally when her coaches silenced her when she was injured. This would lead to a career-ending back injury. Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder eventually led to her leaving the world of gymnastics due to burnout. Ohashi stated, “...the elite atmosphere kicks in and soon takes away the thing that we had once seen as the greatest time of our life” (Ohashi, 2018). 

    Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by an excessive amount of stress (Burnout, 2020). Ohashi’s burnout was not just physical. She mentally could no longer compete and finally decided to not be silent. She decided to affirm that she was not okay. Katelyn Ohashi, a strong and promising gymnast, left the world of elite gymnastics and did not know if she would ever return. In fact, she never did return to elite competition, but she did return to gymnastics on a different level. Ohashi decided to come back to gymnastics at the collegiate level at UCLA. It was here that Ohashi found her voice through her teammates and her coach, Coach Valorie Kondos Field, who was affectionately called Miss Val (Ohashi, 2019).

    In her college experience, Ohashi came to the realization that being great is not what made her miserable. The toxic gym environment and being taught that she was never enough, no matter how much she won, was what made her miserable. At UCLA, Katelyn Ohashi found herself and found her joy in gymnastics again; a joy that she had not felt since she was 11 years old was finally back (Ohashi, 2019).

    Miss Val helped Ohashi see that gymnastics could be fun again and that she did not have to stay silent when things would bother her. Ohashi went on to be the number one Division I gymnast in the country on the floor event, earning multiple perfect scores for her Michael Jackson routine. She was back in the spotlight, but this time it was on her own terms, and she was competing for herself.

    In finding herself and her voice, she decided to share her story in the hope of helping others. She shared her experiences in elite level gymnastics telling why she ultimately left that world behind even though she was so promising. She has spoken out on social media, started a blog, and has done an ESPN cover about her eating disorder. Her public speaking and ad campaigns  are intended to help other people. At just 16 years old, Ohashi unintentionally became an activist for all athletes that were struggling with eating disorders and burnout.         

    Becoming an activist at 16 years old is not easy, especially when it was not on purpose. Although Ohashi did not ask to be an activist, she took on the job and has gone beyond what she was called to do. She advanced her role while at UCLA, where she started to speak out about her mental health and the damage that was done to her body both physically and mentally (Neal, 2019).

    When Ohashi left elite gymnastics, she sent the message that it was okay to walk away from something if it is physically or mentally damaging. During college, she spoke out about the physical and mental abuse that she endured in elite gymnastics. One of the biggest platforms that she uses is her personal blog, where she talks about issues that have affected her and some issues that are just relevant in today's society.

    Ohashi struggled with her body image and still does today, but she has taken the steps to overcome and to show people that everyone is perfect. She did this by talking about how being abnormal in our bodies is normal, and we need to love our bodies. She posed for the cover of ESPN showing off her imperfect body that she has come to love since leaving elite gymnastics (Romero, 2019).

    Not only does Ohashi have a blog, but she has a huge following on social media, racking in 1.1 million followers on Instagram and 162.8K on Twitter. On these platforms, she uses her reach to talk about problems, her realities, the good things in her life, and even her work, Beautifully Molded.         

    Ohashi also has partnered with Gatorade for the Beat the Heat campaign where she has shared her story with millions of people. With such a big audience, Ohashi knows people look to her when they are struggling. Instead of backing down, she has shown others how to cope. She continues to be an activist to help young athletes know they are not alone in difficult situations. She believes that no athlete should have to play a sport until they are physically and mentally burnt out (Ohashi, 2018). What Ohashi went through is tragic, but it has allowed her to use her platform for good, and through the darkness, she found light in her situation. Gymnastics was once the reason for her being miserable, but now it gives her a reason to smile and put her in a position to be able to help young athletes.

    Katelyn Ohashi is an enthusiastic supporter of mental health education and body positivity, both within and outside of sports.  Mental health is a person’s condition related to tehri emotional well-being.  Body positivity encourages people to love their own bodies and feel good about their physical selves (About Mental Health, 2021).

    Gymnastics is known for being physically demanding and sometimes abusive.  Athletes are told to keep quiet about their injuries and are also told to look a certain way.  This leads to mental health problems and physical injuries, in a sport in which athletes are encouraged not to speak up.  While non-athletes deal with these challenges, too, athletes like Ohashi can use their fame and position to advocate for better support for social, mental, and emotional health, and body positivity.

    Works Cited

    About Mental Health, (2021, June 18). Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved August 5, 2021.

    Neal, K. (2019, August 6). Katelyn Ohashi body shaming: Why the gymnast quit elite gymnastics. Parade. Retrieved September 9, 2021.

    Ohashi, K. (2018, February 14). Demanding Change and Moving Forward… – Katelyn Ohashi. Retrieved September 13, 2021.

    Ohashi, K. (2019, September 4).  Katelyn Ohashi: ‘I Wanted to bring the joy back to gymnastics.’  ESPN.

    Randall (2021, July 31). Before Simone Biles, Katelyn Ohashi also faced mental health issues. AsAmNews.

    Romero, I.L.. (2019, September 5). Pictures: 2019 ESPN Body Issue features Katelyn Ohashi, Chris Paul, Myles Garrett and more.  Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved September 13, 2021.

    Victoria Garrick: Eating Disorders and Binge Eating by Olivia Henkel

    An athlete activist is someone who “uses sport or their role as athletes to promote social and political change” (Kluch, 2020) much like Victoria Garrick does. Garrick uses her powerful voice to advocate for athletes everywhere who struggle with mental health challenges. Garrick was a walk-on volleyball player at the University of Southern California who helped lead her team to win a Pac-12 championship. Garrick had been an athlete her whole life, but she was not physically or mentally prepared for what playing at the collegiate level would entail.

    Garrick started to struggle with her mental health as she discovered that playing at a Division I school meant putting athletics before academics. School became more challenging the more she was required to be in the gym, weight room, and training room. She had to make a decision about whether she should go to practice or to study for her chemistry exam, but missing practice was never an option. The high standards she held for herself to be the best in everything she did started to slip through her fingers as her grades started to fall. She was more worried about her performance on the court than in the classroom. As her academic success took second priority, her athletic performance flourished. She made two Elite Eight appearances, earned the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award, and finished off her career first in the Pac-12 conference with the most digs, all while struggling with self-acceptance and her mental health (Garrick, n.d.).

    Garrick now spends her time speaking to young athletes and people across the world who are struggling with body positivity and self-acceptance. Garrick uses her social media platform on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook to show support for those who don't always receive it. She opens up about her body image issues, and she shares her story about how she overcame her struggles and learned to accept herself. Garrick reminds people that it is ok to talk about their emotions, struggles, and hardships because she knows that no one should suffer alone.

    Victoria Garrick in a 2017 TEDxTalk (TEDxTalks, Garrick, 2017)

    Throughout high school, Garrick always cared about her appearance and how she looked to others. She was counting her calories, going on diets, weighing herself frequently, and measuring her waist and other body parts to compare with people that she saw as perfect, skinny, and beautiful. She was obsessed with Victoria’s Secret models and the way they looked, so much so that she would look up their measurements and compare herself to them to see if she was physically like them. If she wasn’t close enough to their size, she would critique each of her body parts and make notes of what she needed to fix in order to be more like them. She constantly overanalyzed her physical appearance which led to a completely new relationship with food. She adjusted her eating habits in order to achieve the body that she desired; however, this initiated the start of her binge eating disorder.

    Binge-eating disorder is a mental health disorder in which an individual will consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop. Binges are often accompanied by feelings of shame, embarrassment, or disgust (Mayo Clinic, 2018).  

    Garrick would get home from practice and eat far too much food from her pantry in one sitting which put her into a cycle of regret and shaming herself for this behavior. Garrick pointed out the fact that “...80% of women are disordered eaters, and what categorizes disordered eating is what they think is normal” (Garrick, 2020a).

    Women are held to many different standards in their lifetimes.  They are judged by how they are supposed to look like, wear, weigh, how they act, and even on their academic, emotional, or behavioral success. These can be stressors that cause concern about body shape or weight. Harvard’s McLean Hospital for Mental Health states that “binge eating disorder is found in about 1% to 2% of the general population and is seen more often in women than men” (Everything You Need to Know About Eating Disorders, 2022).

    Women are told by society that they should be skinny, weak, unathletic, and emotional and men should be tall, muscular, confident, and dominant. Garrick held herself to these standards, and when she started to lose sight of who she was, she would fill her empty void with food. As an athlete, Garrick was susceptible to eating disorders due to the performance anxiety and pressure, as well as the high levels of competition. “Sports participation emphasizes competitive success.  There are often social expectations and pressure to achieve and to win.  Likewise, those with eating disorders and body image disturbances are often subject to external pressures to achieve as well as pressures to appear a certain way” (Stiles, n.d.).

    When she started her first year of college, Garrick had heard many different stories from teammates, friends, and family members about how they gained their “Freshman 15” weight and how it was bound to happen to her. This remark intimidated her, and she was afraid to eat and gain weight. This is where her unhealthy restrictions started. During preseason, she was working out for at least 5-6 hours a day and burning more calories than when she was back home. Her body was craving more food to help replenish her, but she was still hesitant to eat more because she knew it would alter her physique. She was not getting proper nutrition; therefore, she was not able to perform at her best, and she began to feel stressed about losing her spot on the court. She gave in to what her body was saying, and she started to eat more until she was full. This streak lasted for a few weeks until she noticed that she was gaining weight. She looked in the mirror and was disgusted with who was looking back at her, and she immediately started to restrict herself again. She began dieting, counting her calories, and measuring herself because she was so unhappy with what she did to her body.

    As volleyball season started, she fell under a tremendous amount of stress playing on a team full of the best volleyball players from across the country. As a first-year college athlete, she had stress from school, living with people she barely knew, and the competition ahead, all while restricting her eating. As a fulltime student-athlete, it was very hard to put life on pause, so she continued to practice and lift every day which only left her body hungry. One evening when she got home from practice, she completely gave in. She opened up her pantry and ate everything she saw. After her binge, she was so upset with herself so she restricted herself once again and told herself that because she ate so much at night she could not eat as much during the day tomorrow. This restriction did not last long because the same thing happened the next day when she came home: another binge.

    Garrick was consumed by thoughts about the food around her, and always knew how many calories were in the foods in her pantry so she would know what she could and could not eat. Her mental health suffered, and she found herself stuck and left not knowing who to go to, so she turned to social media. She did not want to reach out to anybody because she did not want to believe that she has a binge eating disorder.

    Garrick put thousands of screenshots of models and girls' stomachs in her camera roll and she would look at them daily to remind herself of what she was supposed to look like. She would look at pictures of herself from when she was 35 pounds lighter and set it as her lock screen, so every time she would open her phone she would be reminded of what she used to look like when she was thin and beautiful (Garrick, 2020b). 

    Victoria Garrick social media collage examples

    After months of not being satisfied with who she was becoming, she decided to reach out and look for answers. She made this decision one night when she found herself Googling “athletes with depression,” and she couldn't find anything. She went on to argue that, “[m]ental health is not something we need to be ashamed about. Everyone at some point in their life is going to go through something hard or challenging that really tests them. What defines you is not that you've been through it, it's how you are going to get through it” (Garrick, 2020b).

    With the help of the school nutritionist, she was able to attack her illness head on. She learned to accept herself, and she wanted to make the same impact on other athletes who might be struggling with their mental health and self acceptance as well. This is when she made the decision to take her story public and spoke on the stage of TedTalks and at many schools across the country. Garrick wanted to speak out about the mental trauma she was experiencing because she knew that she was not the only one. With support from her nutritionist, her family, and friends she was able to find herself again. Garrick would practice positive self talk, meditation, and writing out lists of personal achievements. This helped her find emotional balance, which in turn helped her learn to accept her body the way it is (TEDxTalks, Garrick, 2017).

    Works Cited

    Everything you need to know about eating disorders (2022, February 25). McLean Hospital. 

    Garrick, V. (n.d.). About. Retrieved on May 19, 2022 from   

    Garrick, V. (n.d.) Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved September 13, 2021 from  

    Garrick, V. (2020a) My Eating Disorder Story: Binge Eating. [Video] YouTube. 

    Garrick, V. (2020b).  VICTORIA GARRICK 2020 SPEAKING TOUR | Student-Athlete Mental  Health Advocate. [Video] YouTube. .

    Kluch, Y. (2020). “My Story Is My Activism!”: (Re-)definitions of social justice activism among collegiate athlete activists. Communication & Sport, 8(4–5), 566–590. 

    Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 5). Binge Eating Disorders. 

    Stiles, B. (n.d.). Eating disorders in athletics: Pressure from parents, coaches, and appearance expectations play role. mom’sTeam. 

    TEDx Talks. (2017, April).  TEDxUSC - Victoria Garrick - Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent. .

    “Victoria Garrick (@victoriagarrick) Is on Instagram.” Accessed September 13, 2021.

    TikTok. “Victoria Garrick (@victoriagarrick4) Official TikTok | Watch Victoria Garrick’s Newest TikTok Videos.” Accessed September 13, 2021.

    Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: Masculinity and Mental Health by Cristian Dixon

    Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, had to face many hardships growing up in Hawaii. Johnson and his father had a very complicated relationship which he said was “tough love.” For example, when Johnson was five years old, his dad would beat him by taking him up to the rooftop to punch him like a punching bag. In his father’s eyes, this helped show the boy what being “a man” is truly about. By the age of 10, his father would wake him up at 4:30/5:00 every morning for no reason, except “If I have to be up. You  have to be up, too” his father said (Goalcast, 2020). Part of the reason that Johnson’s father was like this was because he was one of the  first African-Americans to fight in the WWF. His father had absolutely nothing handed to him.  When Johnson was only 14, he was kicked out of his home in Hawaii. He also had to leave the island because his parents were not able to pay rent. At this point, he and his mother had nowhere to live. When Johnson was 15 years old, he watched his mom attempt suicide by walking toward oncoming traffic on Interstate 65 in Nashville, Tennessee. He had no other choice but to run out, grab her, and bring her back to the shoulder of the interstate. He said "What's crazy about that suicide attempt is that to this day, she has no recollection of it whatsoever. Probably best she doesn't" (Blackburn, 2018). By the age of 17, he was arrested several times because he was in a “theft ring” that would target tourists and steal jewelry and clothes. He was also arrested multiple times for fighting in the streets.  

    Dwayne Johnson poses with his father. (Goalcast, 2020)

    Even at a young age, Johnson’s mental health was very unstable. After rescuing his mother from suicide, he began to suffer from serious episodes of depression on his own. Johnson said, “I reached a point where I didn't want to do a thing or go anywhere, I was crying constantly” (Goalcast, 2020). It felt like his whole life was crashing down and he was stuck not knowing where to go or who to talk to. He coped by going to the gym every day to hit the punching bags and to lift weights, but that couldn't hide everything he was feeling.

    After being kicked out of his home in Hawaii, he began to take football more seriously. He would train hard every day in high school to stand out. And that he did. Division I colleges and universities across the country called to recruit him. Johnson decided to play football for the University of Miami where he had a fantastic first three years of Division I football. During his senior year, he did not get to play because someone took the starting spot from him. He stuck with the team that year even though he did not get any playing time. This led to him not being able to further his football career in the NFL.  

    Johnson settled by going to the Canadian Football League (CFL) which was only bringing him $250 (Canadian) a week. He was later cut from the team and came home with only $7 in his pocket. He was broke. He had nothing. After being cut from the team and home for about a month, he received a phone call from the same team in the CFL who cut him. They invited him to return, but Johnson had other plans.

    Johnson’s father asked him after that phone call “You’re gonna do it. Right?”

    He responded, “No…”

    “What are you going to do?” his father asked.

    “I’d like to get in the business,” Johnson replied (Kedem, 2021).

    “The business” meant joining professional wrestling, just like his father. However, his dad did not agree. He said “You are throwing it all away. It is the worst mistake you will ever make… You are ruining your career” (Goalcast, 2020). Johnson defied his father and pursued professional wrestling. He had great success performing in the ring, but off the mat, his dad’s negative remarks echoed in his head which only made his mental health decline even more. Johnson didn't have anybody to look to for advice or help, and he didn't want to show weakness by talking about his struggles with mental health.

    Talking about mental health for men is very important. Some men and boys feel that it is hard to open up about feelings and be vulnerable because of the stereotypes that society holds about men.

    Stereotypes are set ideas that people have about what someone or something is like, and often those ideas are wrong (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.).  For example, stereotypes say being masculine means being strong, brave, independent, assertive, and insensitive. If someone is less than that, they might be labeled as weak or not masculine enough. Johnson struggled with his own masculinity, depression, and his “tough-love” relationship with his father. Johnson would hide his feelings because of the stereotypes about masculinity that had been placed on him since he was born, and the fear he had of losing his father’s acceptance.

    Depression is a mood disorder that involves feelings of constant sadness and a loss of interest in things that had previously been fun or exciting (Mayo Clinic, 2018).  Depression can make it hard to think or even do normal daily activities.  Sometimes depression can cause people to want to die by suicide. At a point in his life, he was forced to watch his mom go through extreme depressive episodes which impacted the way he looked at life. Constantly being surrounded by the negative look on life contributed to his own depression. Johnson would not dwell on the thought of being depressed but he would focus on hiding his emotions and use them to push himself harder.

    Tough love is often thought of as affection or concern expressed in a stern or  unsentimental manner especially to promote masculine behavior (Miriam-Webster, 2022). Sometimes people call abusive behaviors like hitting children “tough love” to make an excuse for child abuse.  This was a problem in Johnson’s relationship with his father. Johnson would not receive affection from his father because he saw his role as a father to train his son to be the stereotypical man. So, Johnson’s father hit him. This abusive behavior led Johnson to push his feelings and emotions to the side. Johnson was never able to express himself in a vulnerable way, which pushed him to want to advocate more for men and explain why there is no need to hide genuine emotions.

    Johnson continued to hide his emotions during his failures and successes in both athletics and acting. He is not alone; there are many professional male athletes that suffer from depression, stereotyped masculinity, and consequences of ‘tough love.’ This influenced Johnson’s decision to take action and speak out about why men’s mental health needs to be talked about more, and share his story about his own personal mental health struggles.

     One thing he considered every day was the thought of himself with his back up against a wall. Johnson used that image in a speech to the Los Angeles Lakers. He physically put his back to the wall to show that when something blocks the way back, the only way to go is forward. Nothing can stop someone if it is behind them. This allows many athletes to take action when times get hard because they are allowing themselves to only look forward. Johnson said “Remember the hard times…” This takes people a long way to help stay focused on the fact that the future can look better than the past (Payan, 2021).


    Works Cited

    Blackburn, P. (2018, April 2). Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson discusses his battle with depression, mental-health issues. Accessed September 9, 2021. 

    Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Stereotype. In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved May 19, 2022 from 

    Goalcast. (2020, January 29). Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s Biggest Regret. [Video]. YouTube. 

    Kedem, M. (2018, March 18). Dwayne Johnson Talks Mental Health during ‘Young Rock.’” Audacy. Accessed September 9, 2021. 

    Mayo Clinic. (2018, February 3). Depression (major depressive disorder). 

    Miriam-Webster. (2022). Tough love. In Retrieved May 19, 2022 from 

    Payan, A. (2021). The Rock’s Speech: LA Lakers, 2021. [Video] YouTube. 

    Abby Wambach: Athletic Identity, Retirement and Mental Health by Megan Gandrup

    It is every athlete's dream to really pull through when their team needs them. Abby Wambach did just that almost every time she played soccer.  Once, when she was only 24 years old, she had a clutch moment on the biggest stage. It was August 24, 2004, and the United States Women’s Soccer Team was playing in the gold medal match game at the Olympics in Athens. The game went into overtime after 90 minutes of regulation play against a very good Brazil team. In the 112th minute, Wambach scored the game winning goal with a header off of a corner kick (Wagner, 2015). In this moment, not only did she win the game for her team, but she also won her first gold medal. This was the start of her amazing career.

    This was not the only time that Wambach had come up clutch for the team. Wambach and the US National Team had moved onto the Women’s World Cup, which is the world’s biggest soccer tournament and only happens every four years. The United States was playing Brazil in the quarterfinal game, and they were down two goals to one. It got to the 122nd minute of overtime, and the U.S. was desperate for a goal. Carli Lloyd sparked a push from midfield. Lloyd passed the ball out to Megan Rapinoe near the sideline who then kicked the ball in the air back to the middle of the field in front of the goal. Who was there to head the ball in? Wambach was. This goal evened the score, and the team went on to win the game through penalty kicks. After the tournament was over, the header that Wambach scored was voted as the greatest goal in FIFA women’s World Cup history (Wagner, 2015).

    Abby Wambach was born in Rochester, New York on June 2, 1980. She is the youngest of eight children. Her love for soccer started at a very young age after seeing her older sister play. When Abby was four, she decided to be like her sister and started to play soccer. Ever since then, she never looked back. During high school, she scored 142 goals and started working on her headers, which would become her signature way of scoring. At a young age, she joined the Olympic Development Program for soccer. This is how athletes train to have a chance at making the National Team. Wambach then became a part of the U-16 National Team and became a part of the National U-20 player pool. She was also on the first youth team to travel to Beijing, China, to compete (Abby Wambach: Biography, n.d.).

    Abby Wambach goes for a header, but the ball is punched away by the England Women’s goalkeeper (Joshjdss, 2015)

    After all of her hard work and development, Wambach became a top recruit for many colleges. As a result of being a top recruit, soccer remained an important part of Wambach’s life and identity. If she was not in school then she had a soccer ball at her feet. Many top universities and programs wanted Wambach to play for them. She eventually accepted a full athletic scholarship to the University of Florida and attended school from 1998 to 2001. As a first-year student-athlete, she led the Florida Gators to their school’s first ever NCAA Championship in women’s soccer. They beat the North Carolina Tar Heels who had already won 15 national championships (Abby Wambach: Biography, n.d.). Along the way, Wambach set multiple school records. She did not stop after college.

    After college, Abby Wambach went on to become a very well known athlete who played for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. When it comes to soccer, she is an icon. Wambach is a two time Olympic Gold Medalist and a two time FIFA World Cup winner. She also led the United States Soccer team in goals scored in 2007 and 2011 (Wambach, 2021). To this day, Wambach still owns the title of the top goal scorer with 184 and is 26 goals ahead of the next person in line (Becherano, 2021). The player she beat out for the top spot is the legendary Mia Hamm. In 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2013, Wambach was named U.S. soccer female athlete of the year. In 2012, Wambach won the FIFA Ballon d’Or (golden ball) award (Wambach, 2021) which is given to the best player in the world. After winning her second World Cup in 2015, Wambach decided that it was time to retire.

    Abby Wambach playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team (Salzman, 2015)

    Wambach was used to being in the spotlight because she always had been throughout her career. During her whole life, she had also been an elite athlete, and this was her whole identity. Towards the end of her career, Wambach struggled with depression and substance abuse. All of this was due to retiring from soccer and having an identity crisis. She would have to figure out who she was outside of soccer. After being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and seeing her police photo in the media, Wambach decided to get help (Bahadur, 2016). She was in the middle of writing a book when she decided to write about her struggles. Wambach said she did not plan to write about identity, depression, and substance abuse in her book but decided it was something that needed to be told.

    After reflecting, she came to the conclusion that a big factor for her abusing painkillers and alcohol was to counterbalance the emotional pain she was feeling. She said “I didn’t know what I would be without soccer as my main identity” (Borden, 2016). This is an issue that not only Wambach has faced.  Many people face these challenges, but they do not bring it out in the open because of the stigma around mental health.

    Athletes are much less likely to seek help and treatment when it comes to mental health. Athletes receive and treat physical injuries, but most are hesitant to seek help for mental illness because it is perceived as a weakness (Reardon & Creado, 2014). When Wambach opened up about her mental health struggles, she let people know that it is okay to have these feelings and to get help when help is needed.


    Mental Health and Identity in Sports

    • Mental Health and Retirement: After doing something or being defined by something for so long, such as being an elite athlete, the athlete has to re-identify themselves in retirement. This is true for anyone after being in the same routine and knowing how to fit into the world. Stopping a routine is a big change. Retirement may cause a lot of thinking that someone may not have had to do before. It is a major life adjustment and can be stressful.
    • Retirement can cause athletes to experience depression and identity loss, especially among those that were elite athletes. “It is often said that a sports star will die twice, the first time at retirement” (Vickers, 2021). After dedicating their whole life and all of their time to training, what’s next? That is the question that many elite athletes struggle with. Most of their time and days were filled with rigorous training and a lot of time traveling. They were also so used to being viewed as an athlete in the public eye. They acknowledged and embraced the athletic identity  (Vickers, 2021).
    • Athletes have to become mentally tough people to successfully compete. They are perceived as tough to the public because they are fitter, healthier and happier than others. This kind of stereotyping can make it difficult for athletes to ask for help especially when it comes to retirement. The retiring athlete may  feel weak, embarrassed, or ashamed to ask for help. That is why when an athlete is going through a big life change, such as retirement, it is important for them to have a social support system and communicate with them  (Vickers, 2021).
    • Substance Abuse and Help-Seeking Stigmas: When it comes to substance abuse, athletes often get blamed. People only hear about what the athlete did, but they do not understand the stress and pressure the athlete is experiencing to drive them to abuse alcohol, pain killers, prescription medicine, or other drugs. Athletes are also held to a higher standard than the rest of the public because they are perceived as role models.
    • Most elite athletes are coached to be tough, both physically and mentally. This helps athletes get through workouts and their complicated lives. This is why a lot of athletes do not seek help. In an elite athlete’s world, mental health and the vulnerability that comes with accepting emotional struggles and the mental toughness demanded in sports are contradictory concepts (Gucciardi, et al., 2017). This is part of the reason why athletes do not seek help when they need to because they have been told to stand up and shake it off, or that they simply need to be mentally tougher.

    Works Cited

    Becherano, L. (2021). The All-Time Leading Goal Scorers in USWNT History. Accessed September 14, 2021.

    Bahadur, N. (2016). Soccer Player Abby Wambach Reveals She’s Battled Drug And Alcohol Addiction For Years. SELF, September 13, 2016.

    Borden, S. (2016, October 11). Abby Wambach, Retired U.S. Soccer Star, Reflects on Her Addiction. The New York Times, sec. Sports.

    Gucciardi, D.F.., Hanton, S., & Fleming, S. (2017). Are mental toughness and mental health contradictory concepts in elite sport? A narrative review of theory and evidence.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(3), 307–311.

    joshjdss. (2015, February 13). Karen Bardsley of England Women’s Punches the Ball Away from Abby Wambach of USA Women’s [Photograph]. Creative Commons Wikimedia.

    Reardon, C.L., & Creado, S. (2014). Drug abuse in athletes. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 5. 95–105.

    Salzman, Noah. (2015, May 10). English:  Abby Wambach Playing for the US Women’s National Team in San Jose, California on 10 May 2015 [Photograph]. Creative Commons Wikimedia.

    Vickers, E. (2021).  Life after sport: Depression in the retired athlete. BelievePerform

    Wagner, L. (2015, December 15). Abby Wambach’s soccer career in 8 iconic moments. NPR, sec. America.

    Abby Wambach: Biography. (n.d.). The Famous People. Accessed September 14, 2021.

    Wambach, Abby. (2021). About.  Accessed September 13, 2021.

    Michael Phelps: Mental Health Stigma and Substance Abuse by Mary Puffett

    It’s the year 2008 in Beijing, China. Michael Phelps is getting ready to swim in the 200-meter freestyle Olympic finals. All the men get up on their blocks and prepare for the whistle to blow. At the sound, they all dive into the clear blue water, barely making a splash. Most fans expected Phelps to come in from behind to win this race, just like he had done so many times before. To everyone’s surprise, he already had a whole body’s length lead by the 50-meter mark, and each stroke would pull him away farther and farther from his competition.

    Phelps finished the race in world record fashion, with the first ever sub-1:43 performance in the history of swimming. This gold medal would put him on track to win a record breaking eight gold medals at these Beijing Olympics. He would collect an astounding twenty-eight medals throughout his Olympic career. Michael Phelps is seen to many as one of the best, if not the best swimmer to ever enter the pool. It only makes sense that he is off living the best, most luxurious retired swimmer’s life there is, right? 

    Michael Phelps kissing his gold medal from the 200m Medley at the 2016 Rio Olympics (Borges, 2016)

    In fact, Michael Phelps has lived anything but an easy and luxurious life. His parents divorced when he was young, and his father was not present for most of Phelps’ life. He found a father-like figure in his swimming coach Bob Bowman. At the age of nine, Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD. Swimming was the one thing in the world that helped young Phelps escape the troubles of the world. Bowman describes Michael as “complex…stubborn, hardheaded, isolated, unforgiving and ruthless” (Drehs, 2016).  These qualities helped him become one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, but they have also created very dark times in his life.

    In 2004, he was arrested for driving under the influence and was sentenced to 18 months of probation (Sanchez & Watts, 2014). Then later in 2009, a photo was sent around of Phelps smoking illegal substances at a party. This image forced some of his sponsors to not renew his contracts. In the year 2012, after the London Olympics, Michael suddenly decided to retire. Coach Bowman recalls Michael not caring at all in the year 2012 (Finan, 2021).  

    Phelps reflects on his training in 2012 and recalls that he “had no desire to go to work out” (“Michael Phelps Talks about ‘downward Spiral’ Leading to His DUI Arrest,” 2016). Yet Michael still decided that he would stage a major comeback in the year 2014. Sadly, that September, he was pulled over in Baltimore for driving 84 mph in a 45-mph zone (Sanchez & Watts, 2014). Even though he was cooperative throughout the whole process, he failed the field sobriety test and received his second charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. This event sparked a “media firestorm” (Finan, 2021). He became a national punchline, and “USA Swimming suspended him for six months,” which was double his suspension for the image sent around in 2009 (Finan, 2021).

    Phelps looks back on these events and remembers locking himself in his bedroom “not wanting to be alive, not knowing what to do, who to turn to. Being lost” (Finan, 2021). Luckily, with the support of his wife, he finally decided to attend rehabilitation. He went through six full weeks of treatment, staying in his room the first whole week not knowing if he was going to get through it (Ruane, 2016). In therapy, he was able to confront his depression and cope with his parent’s divorce (Finan, 2021).

    It wasn’t until 2016, right before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, that he finally decided to come out to the world with his struggles of anxiety and depression and how he now felt healthier both physically and mentally. At the Rio Olympics, the last of his career, Phelps earned six medals, four of which were gold. After Rio, Phelps was asked to reflect on the year 2012. Phelps stated, “I want to be here. That’s the difference. I had no desire to go to work out before. And I want to retire how I want to retire. And I have a great opportunity to do that. I haven’t trained like this in a decade” (“Michael Phelps Talks about ‘downward Spiral’ Leading to His DUI Arrest,” 2016).

    Michael Phelps with Coach Bowman at the 2016 Rio Olympics

    Michael Phelps is one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, yet he has struggled with depression, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide. He has once said “There are times where I feel absolutely worthless, where I completely shut down but have this bubbling anger that is through the roof. If I’m being honest, more than once I’ve just screamed out loud, ‘I wish I wasn't me!’” (Phelps, 2020). There have been times where he wants to be some “random Joe” out on the street that no one knows. Luckily, he is able to cope with these darkening thoughts by going to a quiet place alone or working out. He goes to the gym every day, whether he feels like it or not. Phelps says, “If I miss a day, it’s a disaster” (Phelps, 2020). Working out is something he has known his whole life, so he is able to use this love for sport to channel happy thoughts. Even though he is now better both mentally and physically, he expresses that his depression “is something that will always be part of my life” (Finan, 2021). 

    Today, mental health and mental illness are more prevalent in public conversation. Sadly, the topic, especially in professional athletics, comes with a large stigma. Many believe that it is seen as “weak” to talk about mental health and that one should simply just “get over it.” Even though mental illness may have physical aspects, it  isn’t totally a physical illness, thus harder to detect and see. “Athletes receive comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation for physical injuries, but this may be less often the case for mental illness, because [it is] sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness” (Reardon & Creado, 2014). If mental illness was a physical injury, like a broken foot, it would be physically noticeable and harder for people to pretend it does not exist. 

    Phelps understood how hard it can be to talk about mental health, especially for males. When reflecting on his own difficulty speaking out, he thinks that “the biggest thing is, we all need to ask for help sometimes too. I can say personally, it was something that was very challenging. It was hard for me to ask for help” (Hanson, 2021). Simply put, it is okay to not be okay.

    Sadly, “men are less likely to seek help for mental health problems compared to women across races, ethnicities, ages, and other sociocultural backgrounds” (Mahalik & Di Bianca, 2021). This means that men are less likely to ask for or receive help for their mental health struggles no matter their race, age, or history. By rejecting help and keeping their mental health issues to themselves, they gain privilege and power as a way to assert masculinity (Mahalik & Di Bianca, 2021). Phelps states that he could sense a few years ago that mental health in athletes would become a very important topic, but he didn’t realize how big of an issue it would grow into (Hanson, 2021). Even though mental health issues have blown up over the last couple of years, many (especially men) are still scared to talk about their struggles. 

    Phelps has used his platform to help promote mental health on a global scale. He joined the board of “Talkspace, an online mobile therapy company that provides access to therapists whenever needed” (Phelps, 2020). He also founded the Michael Phelps Foundation, which strives for everyone to have quality access to water safety, healthy living (both physical and emotional) and the pursuit of dreams. Along with starting these two amazing mental health resources, Phelps advocates for people struggling with their mental health, especially athletes.

    At the 2020 Olympics after gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from competition, Phelps said that he understands her decision. He stated, “It can be overwhelming, especially in competition” (Hanson, 2021). He went on to say that “This is an opportunity for all of us to really learn more about mental health, to all help each other out” (Hanson, 2021). The mental health stigma is something that can be overcome, but only if people are willing to get on board and advocate like Michael Phelps. 

    The mental health stigma in America is alarmingly large. There are three different types of stigmas related to mental health. There are public, self, and institutional stigmas (American Psychiatric Association). 

    • Public Stigma: Negative attitudes that others have about mental illness (Pescosolido, 2015).
    • Self-Stigma: Negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people who possess a mental illness have about themselves (Pescosolido, 2015).
    • Institutional Stigma: Policies of government and private organizations that purposely or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with a mental illness (Pescosolido, 2015).

    These stigmas get even worse when taking a closer look at men specifically. This idea that having mental health issues is considered “weak” starts at a young age. These belief systems are passed down from generation to generation. Researchers showed that “adolescents use an extensive vocabulary of 270 different words and phrases, mostly derogatory terms, to describe people with mental health problems” (Clark, Hudson, & Haider, 2020). In America, men are supposed to be seen as strong, courageous, and someone who doesn’t back down from a fight. Our society thrives off the idea that men cannot cry without being seen as weak even though depression is something that can appear at a very young age. “Between 2-9% of children are diagnosed with major depressive disorder, while 5-10% of children and up to 25% of teenagers suffer from anxiety” (Pluhar, et al., 2019). Even though depression rates of diagnosis are considerably high, men still feel the need to keep their mental health issues to themselves as a way to “fit in.” They do this because society has pushed most to believe that by keeping their mental issues to themselves, they will gain power and privilege (Mahalik & Di Bianca, 2021).

    Sport-related depression, substance abuse, and suicide are three factors that are generally seen as connected. When it comes to mental health and substance abuse, it is a two-way street. Substance abuse is a way to cope with mental illness, but it can also be a cause of it. Athletes often turn to substances to cope with pressures to perform, pain and injury, and sometimes retirement from a lifetime of sport. “Athletes may be significantly less likely to receive treatment for underlying mental illnesses such as depression” (Reardon & Creado, 2014). Athletes receive treatment for physical injuries all the time, but are less likely to receive treatment for their mental health needs. Consequently, untreated mental illnesses can often be related to substance abuse (Reardon & Creado, 2014). After these troubles have been present in a person’s life for a long time, thoughts of suicide often appear. Suicide ranks as the 4th leading cause of death among college athletes (Rao & Hong, 2016). Once again, this is a much larger issue when looking at male athletes. Death caused by suicide has increased 2 to 4 times among former athletes during ages 30 to 50 years old (Lindqvist, et al., 2014). All these issues often stem from untreated mental health. If American society can help get rid of this large mental health stigma, we can start to work together to erase these issues. 


    Works Cited

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    Hanson, K. (2021, July 27). Michael Phelps on Simone Biles and Mental Health: ‘Can’t Brush It under the Rug Anymore.’” Accessed September 10, 2021. 

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    Pluhar, E., McCracken, C., Griffith, K. L., Christino, M. A., Sugimoto, D., & Meehan, W. P. (2019). Team sport athletes may be less likely to suffer anxiety or depression than individual sport athletes. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(3), 490–496.

    Rao, A. L., & Hong, E. S. (2016). Understanding depression and suicide in college athletes: emerging concepts and future directions. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(3), 136–137. 

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