Another Pro Athlete Steps Away From Sports Because of Anxiety
MLB pitcher Daniel Bard is leaving the Colorado Rockies to contend with mental health health struggles, of which he's had a long history
Daniel Bard, a top relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, struggled mightily with his command during the World Baseball Classic while playing for Team USA this month. Now, we know he’s yet another professional athlete dealing with mental health issues so potent that they’ve adversely affected his on-field performance, causing him to step away from sports.
In a quarterfinal WBC game against Venezuela, Bard failed to record an out after facing four batters. He gave up four runs and broke the thumb of José Altuve, the Houston Astros All-Star second baseman, with a 96-mile-per-hour sinker that stayed chest-high.
As the Rockies’ closer last year, he logged 34 saves and pitched to a 1.79 ERA. It seemed as though his bouts with “the yips” — a term he and many other players have used to describe mechanical issues a pitcher may experience because of a mental block — were behind him. Those issues ostensibly cost him seven years in the Big Leagues from 2013 through 2019. Unfortunately for Bard, they’ll cost him at least another couple weeks of the 2023 regular season. The Rockies placed him on the 15-day injured list so he can contend with the anxiety causing his current pitching problems.
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“It’s a hard thing to admit,” he told Rockies beat writer Danielle Allentuck about his struggles with anxiety. “But I’ve been through this before. I have enough going on outside the game to realize what’s important…I’m extremely grateful to be in an organization that understands these things and is accepting.”
Rockies manager Bud Black told The Denver Gazette, “This is probably the best thing to do. Take a step back. Re-group in a lot of different ways and see where we are in a couple weeks.”
Bard, who’s now 37, was once a highly touted prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization, which drafted him in the first round after a successful college career with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. “Then came injuries, control issues and creeping self-doubt,” wrote the Denver Post in 2020. “Bard’s ERA skyrocketed to 6.22 in 2012 and he was demoted to the minors early in the 2013 season. His career hit rock-bottom in the spring of 2017 in Port St. Lucie, FL where he attempted to hook up with the Mets, the fifth team that tried, and failed, to find Bard’s lost pitch command.”
He soon retired but worked his way all the back to The Show in 2020, which inspired that profile in the Denver Post. His then-teammate Trevor Story told the paper, “What he’s been through is tough, but to be able to come back from that is awesome. I’m proud to see what he’s done.”
Leaving pro baseball after completing by far his most successful MLB season in 2022 is perhaps even more inspiring. He joins a lengthening list of high-profile athletes who are going public with their mental health struggles, the most recent of whom was Ja Morant, star point guard for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. After earning a league suspension for brandishing a gun in a social media post — another incident in a series of recent reports about his dangerously aggressive behaviors — Morant entered a counseling program to treat anxiety symptoms. When he returned to the hardwood last week, he received a standing ovation from fans. He also said his focus was recalibrated and he will work hard to help the Grizzlies win an NBA championship this year.
It’s great to see stars like Morant and Bard receive this kind of support from their parent clubs and fans. But as more and more athletes come forward to discuss their struggles with mental health, one can’t help but wonder how many other sports figures are also living with these challenges. There’s a good chance a large number of these professionals remain reluctant to talk about their emotional issues publicly and seek help for them because of our persisting cultural stigma against mental illness. But it’s a stigma slowly being beaten down, with the help of one public figure after another.
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