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Terry Collins Just Proved Why So Many People Suffer in Silence

It wasn’t his place to share Matt Harvey’s personal struggles.

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions about substance abuse and suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255(TALK) or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.


When I heard about the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs on July 1, 2019, I felt a lot of the same emotions as I did when Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández and two other men died on September 25, 2016. I, of course, didn’t know either pitcher personally, but as a Marlins fan, I had grown to love the exuberance Fernández pitched with on the mound and cheered on his teammates from the dugout. It’s hard to believe his death occurred five and a half years ago.

It’s been two and a half years since Skaggs died, but the trial of former Angels’ employee Eric Kay, who is accused of supplying the pills that led to the pitcher’s death, began only just last week. My heart breaks for Skaggs’ loved ones who are likely reliving their trauma. According to ESPN’s T. J. Quinn, who has been in the courtroom throughout the trial, Kay’s defense team seems intent on scrutinizing Skaggs’ life and death to “portray [Skaggs] as a reckless partier and drug user whose tragic death was his fault and no one else’s.”

Seven former Angels players, according to The Athletic’s Sam Blum who is also present at the trial, are listed as potential witnesses. Five players have taken the stand so far, including pitcher Matt Harvey, who was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. On Tuesday, four players said that Kay provided them with oxycodone pills during their time with the Angels. Additionally, Harvey said he’d provided Skaggs with drugs shortly before his death and admitted to his own substance use throughout his career.

 

A Bit of Background Information

 

Although illicit drug use among professional athletes may be jarring, no one is immune to substance use disorders or mental health struggles. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you’d think. The most recent (2020) National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that:

  • 59.3 million people (21.4%) aged 12 or older used illicit drugs in 2020.
  • 9.3 million people (3.3%) aged 12 or older misused prescription pain relievers in 2020.

Young adults between 18 to 25 years old were the age group with the highest misuse of prescription pain relievers and use of any illicit drug in 2020. By my count, there were 381 players between the ages of 18 and 25 in MLB during the 2020 season — that’s nearly 30% of the league.

Besides substance use disorder statistics, SAMHSA also compiles data about mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders.

  • 52.9 million people (21.0%) aged 18 or older had a diagnosable mental illness in 2020.
  • 17.0 million people (6.7%) aged 18 or older had a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and any mental illness.

Many current and former players in baseball and across the sports world have spoken up about their experiences with depression, anxiety, and other conditions. I wrote specifically about Drew Robinson last year, but Andrelton Simmons, Dansby Swanson, Ryan Sherriff, and Ty Buttrey are other recent examples. Zack Greinke and Dontrelle Willis are two of my favorite players who were the first players I remember to start this dialogue.

I truly believe that sharing our experiences helps chip away at some of the shame so many of us feel surrounding our struggles. Terry Collins and the New York Post, however, just proved why so many people suffer in silence.

 

This wasn’t for Terry Collins to share.

 

Matt Harvey came into the big leagues under the stewardship of then-manager Terry Collins. The New York Mets organization witnessed the good and bad of Harvey’s career. They benefited from his All-Star season in 2013 and his stellar second half in 2015 as the Mets made a push for the division lead and captured the NL pennant. On the flip side, they also saw the long stretches of time Harvey missed because of various surgeries and how his off-the-field struggles affected his performance on the field. After his time with the Mets, Harvey jumped around to a few different teams and tried to find his old self on the mound. In 2019, that team was the Angels where he shared the clubhouse with Skaggs.

To say that Collins knows personal details about the players he managed would be an understatement. When you spend a substantial amount of time with the same group of people, those people naturally come to learn about your routines and habits. For better or for worse, the group is privy to things you may not feel comfortable sharing with others. There’s a level of trust that these people won’t go around, publicly or privately, gossiping about these intimate details.

I won’t pretend to know the dynamic of a professional locker room, but I do know what it feels like when someone you trust uses your personal struggles as a wrecking ball and leaves you to pick up the pieces. In his testimony, Harvey admitted to his own struggles with substance abuse. For Collins to take that a step further and divulge private information about why Harvey was referred to the team’s psychologist for mental health treatment is disgusting. It’s even more inconceivable that he did so to the press.

Collins is not the only one to blame, however. During the first week of my introductory journalism class in college, my professor handed out the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. I suppose it’s a stretch to expect ethical journalism from the publication that printed seven different puns about Harvey’s bladder infection in 2016, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask that they display the bare minimum of human decency. To be fair, SNY and WFAN also offered their platform to the former manager. All of these outlets willfully ignored their duty to minimize harm: ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues, and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Using very personal details as clickbait is gross, which I why I am not reposting the title or linking the article here. It’s shameful that not one person at any of these places stopped to say, hey, maybe this isn’t ok. Harvey should have been the one to decide when these details should be shared, if ever. This wasn’t Collins’ story to tell, nor the New York Post, SNY, or WFAN’s story to promote.

 

People who are struggling are listening to Collins’ words and watching how you react.

 

If other players were thinking about seeking treatment, I wouldn’t blame them for saying never mind after seeing the events of the last few days. It’s already an extremely daunting thing to ask for help. The possibility of your face and feelings plastered on tabloids for the world to see makes this infinitely more difficult.

The average time between the onset of symptoms and receiving treatment is 11 years. When a public figure or someone well-known dies by suicide, society’s collective response seems to be the same regurgitated sentiment: We had no idea they were struggling. Why didn’t they reach out for help? They post a hotline number, say ask for help! and call it a day until the next time the response is warranted.

I’ve seen a stunning amount of those same people making jokes about Harvey over the last few days. Not only are athletes watching how the situation unfolds, but many more are watching how the community reacts. If you’re using someone’s pain to get a laugh and a few retweets, please pause and consider how your words may affect your friends or family members who are silently struggling.

At this point, we can’t change what Collins said. We can, however, make sure we aren’t alienating people who are already struggling. If you don’t understand the seriousness of the situation, I’m glad — I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Just please stop making jokes about those of us who do.

 

Photos by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire and KA Sports (https://www.flickr.com/people/keithallison/) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Nicole Cahill

Nicole Cahill is a freelance writer who focuses on mental health and sports. She recently founded a nonprofit that helps youth athletes living with mental health challenges. When she's not fighting stigma or exploring Baseball Savant visuals, you can find Nicole enjoying a cup of coffee and a good book. Portfolio: NicoleCahill.com.

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