Red Sox Foundation Pledges Support in Fight to Eradicate Mental Health Stigma in Sports
BOSTON, MA, — The Red Sox Foundation today pledged its support in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation to combating the stigma surrounding mental health in sports.
“Mental health plays an instrumental role in all aspects of life. We recognize there is much work to be done and understand that real change takes considerable time, a willingness to learn and intentional actions,” said a joint statement from the Red Sox Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Sports are a unifier, and as we seek to reduce the stigma of mental health, it’s critical to support and sustain the mental wellness of our players, coaches, staff and fans so we can lead by example and foster a healthier environment for all.”
In an effort to foster open discussion surrounding mental health in sports, the team charity hosted a panel discussion at Fenway Park featuring Red Sox Director of Behavioral Health Dr. Richard Ginsburg, Assistant Director of Psychology Training for the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital Dr. Jonathan Jenkins, and Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. The event included opening remarks by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Red Sox President & CEO Sam Kennedy, and Vice President and MLB Special Assistant to the Commissioner Billy Bean.
“Mental health is truly the epidemic that is coming out of this pandemic,” Mayor Wu said of the surging mental challenges amid COVID-19. “Across every demographic and every geography, we have seen the need grow through the pandemic.”
She described the sports world as an ideal platform for the conversation surrounding reducing the mental health stigma, due to sports’ contributions to our sense of identity. “Sports, especially in Boston, are so much of how we identify ourselves as a larger community, so much about what we think of what it takes to be strong,” Mayor Wu said. “They’re how we take pride in who we are, how we live, and what we’re connected to.”
The panel discussion on mental health is the latest collaboration in an expanding partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and the internationally recognized Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to end the stigma associated with mental health, who have been partners since 2020 providing grant support to non-profits working in the mental health space across New England.
“In the quest to eradicate the mental health stigma in sports, we believe in leading by example,” Ruderman Family Foundation President Jay Ruderman said. “Franchises like the Boston Red Sox have a natural role as changemakers in this space, as sports bring together people from all spheres of life, promoting unity and inclusion. Leveraging the immense prosocial potential of that industry, we are continuously working to raise awareness surrounding the priority of reducing the mental health stigma in order to ultimately inspire other sports franchises in New England and nationwide to commit to doing their part to effect change throughout our society.”
Other dignitaries in attendance at Monday’s event included TV host Amina Smith, who moderated the event; United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins; Boston Globe CEO and Red Sox Foundation Board Member Linda Henry; Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom; and Red Sox General Manager Brian O’Halloran.
“The mental health crisis we are seeing across our country touches all aspects of our society, including sports,” said Red Sox Foundation Executive Director Bekah Salwasser. “We are proud to partner with the Ruderman Family Foundation to bring attention and focus to this important issue and to foster conversation with experts in the mental health field so we can work to help lessen the stigma surrounding this terrible epidemic.”
Sam Kennedy recalled that in 2014, then-Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington and current General Manager Brian O’Halloran started a conversation centered around “keeping our players healthy as it related to mental health” and not only their physical health, which led to the Red Sox establishing a behavioral health department that same year. “We know just in our time here in Boston that we have seen the stigma start to change and we want to do our part to help accelerate that change,” Kennedy said.
Each year, 26% of the U.S. population struggles with diagnosable mental health disorders, including a significant number of elite and professional athletes, which can manifest as stress, eating disorders, performance anxiety, identity loss, and burnout.
The Ruderman Family Foundation and the Red Sox Foundation partner on the annual IMPACT Awards — the distribution of grants to organizations across New England whose mission includes raising awareness on the issue of mental health and improving mental health outcomes. Further, in 2020, Red Sox players released public service announcements that described a culture in which baseball struggles to make mental health a priority within the game. The PSAs encouraged social media usage of the hashtag #BenchStigma as a vehicle for building momentum around that issue.
On Monday, the Ruderman Family Foundation made clear that its efforts to end the mental health stigma in New England’s sports world will not end with the Red Sox, as the Foundation will encourage other teams, leagues and individuals to join their effort.
One athlete who has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts on this issue is five-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love, this year’s recipient of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion, in recognition of his contributions to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and his achievements in the field of inclusion. Love provided a video message for Monday’s event.
“With immense pressure to meet expectations, being an athlete can be challenging for one’s mental wellness,” Love stated. “The ability to share these struggles and the support from the team that follows can make a huge impact on the lives of athletes. When a player gets injured, they see a doctor. We shouldn’t diminish physical health and mental health is no different.”
from Kate Levi, J Cubed Communications