"I’m on the Zoloft to keep from killing y’all." – Mike Tyson
Look at the picture closely. Doesn’t Britney look just a-dorable in her pink outfit? Isn’t she just cute as a button as she innocently folds her hands across her neck? Don’t you just want to say "boop" as you touch her nose with your finger. …So where did it all go wrong? After all the drinking, all the partying, and all the visits to the barber shop, we just have to know. We MUST get to the bottom of this – not just for Britney’s sake, but for ALL of our daughter’s!… Does Britney suffer from mental illness? Her manager just indicated that she might. I have no idea as I am not a doctor, and honestly haven’t been following her story close enough to even render an semi-educated unqualified guess. But here is what I do know: if Britney were an athlete, and particularly an African-American athlete, there certainly would be no serious concern, no extended discussion, and there definitely wouldn’t be any magazine cover stories.
In sports media, in depth coverage on mental illness is few and far between. In 2003, Sports Illustrated’s John Wertheim wrote "Prisoners of Depression" where he discusses the experiences of a variety of athletes who suffer from mental disorders. It was the experience of football players that explain how well sports and mental illness mix:
Ricky Williams (Miami running back) says: "There’s a physical prejudice in sports, When it’s a broken bone, the teams will do everything in their power to make sure it’s O.K. When it’s a broken soul, it’s like a weakness."
- Terry Bradshaw (4-time Super Bowl winner) states: "People say, ‘You couldn’t have been depressed–I saw you throw for all those touchdowns,’"… "Shoot, the football was the easy part. I could concentrate for three hours, and the games were an escape. It was the rest of my life that was going to hell in a handbasket."
- Barrett Robbins (went AWOL the night before the Super Bowl)… Bradshaw states: "I’ve heard his teammates saying things like, ‘The ball’s in his court,’" … "The ball’s in his court? The guy’s brain chemistry needed to be regulated. Can you imagine if a diabetic had suffered from insulin shock and the response was ‘Hey, the ball’s in his court’?"
Wertheim used "Prisoners" in his article title he was not just referring to "depression", but the sports culture itself. Dr. Richard Lapchick called athletes and mental Illness "An Untouched Issue", and Dan Le Batard’s July 2007 ESPN magazine article asks: If An Athlete May Have A Mental Health Issue, Is "Suck It Up" The Right Response? By and large "suck it up" hasn’t just been the response of sports teams and teammates — but the general response of our mainstream sports media.
"The Baddest Manic on the Planet": Perhaps there is no better example of this point than Mike Tyson. His medical condition has been well-documented by doctors, if not our mainstream media: This rare article on Tyson’s mental medical history by CNNSI’s Mike Fish, tells us that Tyson was professionally diagnosed with manic-depression as far back as 1988 and has been diagnosed multiple times with chronic depression. His most famous moment of boxing-related erratic behavior came during the 2nd Holyfield fight where he famously bit off part of Evander’s ear. What happened? The most predictable article condemnations poured in, and talk-radio’s usual retards and bigots called in. However, what was rarely talked about was Tyson’s boxing trainers were routinely taking him off of his medication (usually Zoloft) before most of his fights — including the Holyfield fight. Despite doctors orders, this was done to increase Tyson’s "aggression" in a fight. Of course, the "Tyson-off-medication" was a double-edged sword. Not surprisingly, Tyson’s most bizarre interviews and behavior usually came at the time Tyson was off of his medication. But such handling of Tyson was rarely discussed in our mainstream sports media. For every rare article slipped into the back pages of a magazine, there are hundreds uninformed jokes, puns, and condemnations.
The Missed Opportunity: Dr. Lapchick writes: "Sports, like society, tends to react when a major crisis happens. Len Bias’ death was a wake-up call on the danger of cocaine use; Magic Johnson and Arthur Ashe shed light on AIDS and HIV; Pete Rose on gambling addictions; the OJ Simpson case opened the door on discussions of men’s violence against women." …Tyson – because he was so famous– was the perfect person for our mainstream media to use to shed light on the taboo subject of mental illness in sports and our larger society. But, unfortunately that opportunity for public education never happened.
Britney & Mike: It took only two years — and not 20 — of erratic behavior before magazine covers and TV doctors discuss Britney with clinical and concerned language. However, our media took a pass on Iron Mike despite repeated documentation — something still unclear with Ms. Spears. Just like Britney, "Tyson the Trainwreck" was extremely profitable in selling magazines. Unlike Britney, "Tyson the Victim" was not. He was just too big, too black, and too dangerous. And this fact needs to be remembered the next time someone makes the absurd comparison of how our mainstream media treats the likes of Britney, Paris, or Lindsay vs. Terrell, Artest or Pacman. Too few will be rooting for the latter’s redemption, so don’t expect the media to document it .
The subject of mental illness, disorders, and imbalances is a serious one. Non-diagnosis can lead to patients in prison and young geniuses placed in special ed classes. Misdiagnosis’s can lead to insidious marketing of pharmaceutical companies and our nation’s youth being strung out on Ritalin. And failure to address appropriately can lead to college students turning into mass murderers (see Virginia Tech shootings). Just as serious is our sports world, our athletes, and society’s unwillingness to confront the issue head on. The sports media need not wait on the final diagnosis of Britney Spears to do its job.
 I am not insinuating that the individuals mentioned are mentally ill, but just receive different media treatment. Example: Chances are that you missed the singular day of coverage dedicated to TO and Donovan McNabb kissing and making up despite the previous year-long soap opera.