Photo: Calvin Ridley, of the Atlanta Falcons, by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
If there is one trend in sports I can absolutely get behind is seeing more athletes admitting that it's OK not to be OK 100 percent of the time, and more important, seeking time out of the spotlight and away from the fun and games to get help.
Not that long ago many of these brave people would likely have been criticized for being weak, for being quitters. Sure, those words remain. And that's why a lot of them chose and are still choosing to suffer instead .. in silence. With tragic results for some.
Calvin Ridley, a 26-year-old wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, is just one of the latest professional athletes to call a timeout, apparently his second this season, prioritizing his mental health over his job. And, without scouring social media to gauge reaction, because we all know what that's about, near as I can tell he seems to have been given the space and support to deal with whatever's going on in his life right now.
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, the first openly gay active player in the NFL, took a personal day in the wake of his head coach, Jon Gruden, resigning for disparaging comments made in emails, including references to Michael Sam, a gay former NFL prospect who never made an active roster after coming out ahead of the 2014 draft. At the time Gruden was an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." Nassib's teammates and front office were publicly supportive.
This is progress, however slight. This is the way it should be. The way it should always have been.
I'm not a psychologist, psychiatrist or sociologist, but I know we sports fans have a tendency to demand perfection from our athletes, expecting them to compartmentalize and rise above personal challenges, no matter how daunting. Just play, baby. Go to work. Earn your millions of dollars.
That's not fair. Contrary to the slick marketing, athletes are not superheroes. They're not superhuman. The size of their paychecks doesn't mean they can just bound over what they may see as a mountain of personal issues.
And they shouldn't be peppered with inquiries from us about specifics. It's none of our business.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka created quite a buzz earlier this year when she announced she would not attend mandatory press conferences at the French Open and then withdrew from the tournament. She, too, said she needed time away from her sport to focus on her mental well-being. On Instagram she wrote about suffering through bouts of depression and anxiety. While I'm in the camp that believes enduring press conferences is simply part of the gig, I do not believe she should be raked for saying she was struggling with them.
NFL veteran defensive back Vontae Davis gave few indications, it appears, that the game was starting to weigh heavily on his mind, to say nothing of his body. When he suited up for the Buffalo Bills for a Week 2 game in 2018, even he acknowledged he had no idea what would happen at halftime.
He retired. In the locker room. Took off his uniform and drove home. Done. Middle of a game.
Not everyone applauded his decision, the way he literally walked away. But none of us is living his life. None of us fought his battle between mind and body. And none of us has any authority to dare tell him or suggest a "better" alternative. He did what he felt was right for him in that moment, and I respect that wholeheartedly.
Sadly, the list of athletes who have self-destructed publicly is long and growing. What they deserve -- what we ALL deserve when we are not feeling our best mentally and/or emotionally -- are open arms and ears. Not judges and juries.
Here's hoping Calvin Ridley and every other athlete dealing with heaviness away from competition continue to muster the strength to admit they're vulnerable and ask us for privacy and understanding. And emerge even stronger on the other side.
It's the least we can do.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!