The big play was blown, along with the game. Similarly, there are many times when people “drop the ball.” The difference? After 5 p.m., there are opportunities to forget. In professional sports, replays don’t stop rolling after the business day comes to an end. The world of professional sports has become so pressure-laden that today’s players have little chance to forget about their mistakes. Have professional sports become a business with no room for error? To help shed light on this issue is Mark McKellop, associate professor of psychology.
What is the role of a team psychologist?
Their job is to help players identify stress as well as manage the stress so it doesn’t interfere with their performance. Their job is to pick up on signs of depression, or substance abuse problems, etc. Especially in the pros, the team has millions of dollars invested, and they wanted the players to be as healthy both physically and mentally so they can get their money’s worth. In the end, it’s a business.
How do you feel about the level of pressure on today’s players? Is there more so today?
I think there is definitely more pressure. Especially if you go back 30 or 40 years. Pre-1970, you might have had a couple games a year on TV, and that might have led to a couple minutes a week on local or regional sports reports. Now you have ESPN, the Web sites, and blogs. Everything the player does is analyzed, and reanalyzed and picked apart. If the players don’t know how to ignore that, it has to be excruciating.
Do you think this is a new issue? Or have players tried to hold back because of the stigma associated with psychological problems?
I don’t think it’s new, but it’s definitely a bigger issue, because players are under a microscope 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Athletes are being recruited earlier and earlier, so I think the pressure starts earlier, and its much more intensive. I also think this type of pressure is sort of more vicious and personal.
The Tennessee Titans have refused to immediately reinstate starting quarterback Vince Young, but some have questioned his overall will to play period. Should professional sports begin address the issue of psychological problems to protect the well-being of players?
I’m not sure what they can do to protect them with the exception of educating the teams and players of the signs of stress, how it can be triggered, and that it’s OK to come forward and talk about it. You can’t shut ESPN down, you can’t turn the Internet off, and you can’t get bloggers to stop. There is still this distinction that medical illnesses are real things, and psychiatric things are character flaws, and therefore have no respect. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s still out there. Especially when you talk about sports and the “macho” attitude that goes with it it.
Do you think professional sports are still games?
I think there is the occasional rare player that still sees it as a game, but it’s still a business. It’s not life or death, but there is this feeling that in college, if you perform poorly, maybe your pride is hurt, but it’s not the same as in the professionals. If you lose your spot, you lose millions of dollars and that will have many ramifications for your and your family’s well-being.
-Christopher Bender, ’10, Juniata Online Journalist