The eyes of football fans everywhere will be on the Dallas Cowboys this coming Sunday night as they open up their season against the Los Angeles Rams. Dak Prescott, after months of protracted contract negotiations, will be playing on the franchise tag with no long-term security. There's a lot at stake for both Prescott and his team.
Before everything got started, though, Prescott opened up in an interview about his struggles with mental illness, specifically depression. Talking with Graham Besinger, Prescott revealed his older brother committed suicide last spring. Prescott said he battled depression throughout the offseason, in part because of his brother's death and in part because of the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a rare moment of vulnerability from a football player; the overtly masculine culture of the NFL and lack of individualism does not exactly encourage open conversations about mental health issues.
Skip Bayless deemed it appropriate to talk about this on today's Undisputed. Bayless, after inviting viewers to believe him cold and heartless for his upcoming take, said Prescott should not have discussed his mental health issues in public like that because he is a leader. Bayless does not "have sympathy" for Prescott going public with his struggles.
"I have deep compassion for clinical depression, but," is not a sentence anyone should say. Ever. At any point.
Bayless' argument, if you could call it that, is that Prescott is the leader of America's Team. That mantle comes with a lot of responsibility. Talking about mental health is a weakness, one that could erode the foundation of trust between Prescott and his teammates, and one that could provide an opening for opponents to take advantage of.
This is reminiscent of what Raja Bell said when Paul George did something similar in a press conference. The kind of toxic mindset that struggling with emotions is a "weakness" and revealing those struggles is not something an athlete should do because any sign of weakness is bad for athletes.
One would think we, as a society, would have grown out of that mindset in the year 2020, but here we are. Bayless is not only being insensitive, his comments are harmful. Mental health is not a weakness. It's something everybody goes through to varying degrees. Continuing to perpetuate the stereotype that mental health struggles are something to be ashamed of only hurts those who are working up the courage to seek help.
Prescott did something brave by talking about his own issues, especially as it relates to a brother who committed suicide. Mental health, more than almost anything, is a deeply personal topic with very few easy answers. There's a certain taboo around talking about it that doesn't exactly encourage athletes to come forward, but there are a lot of people inside and outside of professional sports who just don't want to talk about it to the media because it's so personal. In sharing his own struggles, Prescott opened himself up to the media and the world at large in ways few other athletes have done. And this is how Bayless chooses to respond.
The whole point of the character that is Skip Bayless on Undisputed is to make contrarian, outrageous arguments to drive interest and viewership. For topics like this, he shouldn't make those kinds of arguments. Not only is Bayless perpetuating a harmful stereotype that depression and other mental health issues are weaknesses rather than natural problems everyone struggles with, he took an extremely personal reveal by Prescott and criticized him for it. If Bayless does not have sympathy for a man who couldn't get in the mindset to go work out after his brother took his own life, Bayless has his own issues to work out.
Much of what Bayless says is harmless. This is not. He has already and will continue to take heated criticism for this segment. As he should.