Robin Williams, Sports, and Mental Health


Robin Williams hugs San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal during the first inning of Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series.

Robin Williams hugs San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal during Division Series Credited to
Ben Margot, File/AP Photo

 

It’s been hard to avoid the recent deluge of posts and tributes related to the death of Robin Williams.  The nature of his death seemed to bring out opinions and feelings galore, while Social Media exploded in reaction to his death.  In addition to the many posts sharing their favorite Robin Williams’ moments, there has been a number of stories about his philanthropic and giving character, his passion for sports, and the impact that mental illness had on him and others.

Reactions seem to vary from those who do not understand – including those who believe suicide is a selfish act and those who don’t understand how he couldn’t find reason to carry on, knowing how much he had to offer to others – to those who relate and empathize with the pain and anguish he must have experienced to take such actions.  Pretty much everyone seems to have some thoughts on the news of this talented individual’s passing.

In the past couple of weeks, several celebrities have opened up about their own history of mental illness as a result of the attention that has come through the media.  McFly singer, Tom Fletcher shared about his own history of depression.  Around that same time, Talksports commentator, Alan Brazil had suggested that suicide was a selfish act, stating “What you leave behind is diabolical. I’m really annoyed about that.”  This triggered a response from Fletcher who blasted Brazil and called him a ‘f*cking idiot‘ for his comments.  He went on to share his own personal experiences and responded to Brazil via a post to his website Tomplicated.com.  He wrote: “Sometimes … Alan, the storms come. I’m not talking about a light shower, I mean the full works. The darkest skies you have ever seen … It’s so completely consuming that it is suddenly not only the only thing you know but the only thing you have ever known.”  Fletcher later apologized for his harsh reaction and urged anyone suffering from mental illness to seek help.  Regardless, his words give a glimpse in to his own dark times of depression.

I don’t think Brazil’s thoughts are that uncommon though.  Even I wondered what his wife and family were going through and if they were asking “why?”  Like others, I’ve been saddened that his comic genius has come to an end.  Since his death, there has been an outpouring of stories about how Williams’ touched all of those around him, how he brought smiles and laughs to so many, and even going out of his way to help those in need, such as making a secret visit to a 5 year old who was suffering from brain cancer.  He was also known for charity work in health care, education, the environment, and his work with Comic Relief, which was a non-profit organization to help America’s homeless.  He also visited Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times to help raise morale of the troops.

Williams also had many ties with athletes and was known as an avid sports fan.

Robin Williams did regular skits on the olympicssoccerMLB, and golf.  He was even the Denver Bronco’s first male cheerleader, who wanted to “win one for the zipper!”

He was a close friend to seven time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong.  In fact, he was one of the few to support and stand by Armstrong during his doping allegations.  Upon learning of his death, Armstrong told American news channel CNN on Tuesday  “It was a weakness of his that he could never say no. He would stretch himself so thin. He wanted to make people happy. The guy was a giver. That is the best way I could some it up.”

“I visited him outside of Portland … Life is messy and we all sort of find our way. This last year or so Robin was in a place where I don’t think many people knew, and it was terrible.

Williams was also a San Francisco Giants fan for decades and was often seen and included in the behind the scenes shots.

Robin Williams after Timmy k'd 14 Braves in 2010 NLDS.  from @ryancovay

Robin Williams after Timmy k’d 14 Braves in 2010 NLDS. from @ryancova

The Giants honored him with a moment of silence and tribute last week.

One fan stated “he brought laughter in to people’s lives who were more sad than his.”  Although respectful, it seems like someone who truly didn’t understand, as Williams seemed to be a master at hiding his own struggles and sadness.

Williams also supported tennis star Andre Agassi’s annual ‘Grand Slam for Kids’ event which raised money for Agassi’s Las Vegas charter school.  The tennis world also mourned his death.

rwtennisIn addition, Williams took part in the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation, working with child athletes with physical disabilities

It seemed like Robin was everywhere and involved with so many major events…whether it was sports, keeping morale up with US Troops, or helping those who seemed less fortunate.  Despite all of this, he suffered from his own issues and mental health problems for years.  Yet, he seemed to hide these so well.  Late Night host, David Letterman who knew Williams for 38 years stated that he had “no idea” that he was even suffering.  It’s hard to believe that someone who spent so much of his life making others happy was so unhappy himself.  Most of us, selfishly, want him back as we struggle to understand.  I suppose that the difficult part is fully understanding the biological nature of depression, if you haven’t been there yourself.  I believe Kay Redfield Jamison gives a terrific description in her book “An Unquiet Mind:  A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” where she states:

“In its severe forms, depression paralyzes all of the otherwise vital forces that make us human, leaving instead a bleak, despairing, desperate, and deadened state. . . Life is bloodless, pulseless, and yet present enough to allow a suffocating horror and pain. All bearings are lost; all things are dark and drained of feeling. The slippage into futility is first gradual, then utter. Thought, which is as pervasively affected by depression as mood, is morbid, confused, and stuporous. It is also vacillating, ruminative, indecisive, and self-castigating. The body is bone-weary; there is no will; nothing is that is not an effort, and nothing at all seems worth it. Sleep is fragmented, elusive, or all-consuming. Like an unstable, gas, an irritable exhaustion seeps into every crevice of thought and action.”

Despite such an bleak description, those who have never experienced this could probably never truly understand.  Ironically, even Williams’ talked about suicide being a “permanent solution to temporary problems” in this video.

While we will never know what was going through Williams’ head at the time he decided to take his life, whatever demons he was dealing with must have seemed too much for him to deal with at the time.  Despite all of our pleadings and reasonings, he is gone.  I can only hope that there is a hidden lesson and that his death can help raise awareness.  For those who can relate or are who are suffering from the same issues, take Williams’ own suggestions and “reach out to someone.”  No matter how dark things may seem, we really never know what tomorrow has in store.

Although there are many resources out there, I have listed a few below.  Continue reaching out “to someone” until you find what you need.

National Institute for Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 

 


About Mark Williams

Mark is a 49 year old sports fanatic, who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. He’s a passionate sports fan, who loves FSU football, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Bucs! He has written as a Correspondent for the Florida Panthers on The Hockey Writers and enjoys blogging about sports and inspirational stories. When not busy following sports, Mark works as a licensed psychotherapist. His dream is to combine his passion for sports and helping people through his writing.

Email: mark@thoughtsonsports.com

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