By Ken Reed
World Mental Health Day took place this past week (October 10th) and it got me wondering what types of things pro sports leagues and franchises are doing in the area of mental health initiatives.
The world of male sports has been slow to progress in lots of social and cultural areas due to an overabundance of machismo. Given that reality, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Indianapolis Colts have an excellent mental health program called “Kicking the Stigma.” It’s a model that every pro sports franchise would do well to study.
The Colts are the leader across pro sports in making erasing the stigma around mental health an organizational priority, both inside and outside the franchise’s facilities. The Colts launched its Kicking the Stigma initiative in 2020 to bring awareness to the prevalence of mental health issues in our communities and to raise and distribute funds for treatment organizations. The Colts have directly committed more than $4 million in grants to the effort and Kicking the Stigma fundraising efforts have raised more than $17 million to expand mental health research and treatment in Indiana and across the country.
“I just feel unbelievably blessed to be in an organization that understands the importance of people’s mental health and creating it and fostering a space, a family-oriented environment, to allow players to speak how they feel and make sure everyone is doing well,” says Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer believes the Colts program can provide a model for other pro teams to adopt. “This is a tremendous service the Colts are providing not only to the organization but to their local community and throughout their state and beyond.” Sills has helped create the NFL Life Line, which connects former and current players to counselors.
The Colts ownership, shared by Jim Irsay and his three daughters, chose to make mental health its primary philanthropic effort because it was personal to their family, which has suffered with anxiety, depression and alcoholism and addiction challenges.
The good news is Kicking the Stigma has resulted in Colts players and other employees talking about mental health challenges.
“We are asking each other about family. ‘Where are you mentally?’” according to Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard. “No one is shying away from that conversation.”
Good for the Colts. Here’s hoping other franchises across the pro sports landscape launch similar initiatives. College athletic departments could develop similar programs.
Here’s a link to the Colts’ Kicking the Stigma Impact Report.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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