Suicide Knows No Boundaries, Even in the Locker Room

Kenny McKinley, a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, committed suicide Tuesday night. (Associated Press)
Earlier this month I wrote an entry about mental health and sportsNew York Giants offensive lineman Shawn Andrews, along with Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke, faced either skepticism or support when they came out in public about their struggle with dealing with depression.

On Tuesday, second year Denver Broncos Wide Receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead in his apartment in suburban Denver.  The initial cause of death was an apparent suicide.

“Suck it up” is no longer relevant as a way to snap out of depression.

You know, we get too wrapped up in our opinions of athletes as being selfish, boorish, disconnected from the realities of the world.  But, as a reminder that is all too common when stories like this is brought up, athletes are people, not gladiators, robots, and superfreaks.

No amount of money, fame, and notoriety will keep depression, schizophrenia, or various mental illnesses at bay.  It cuts across all socioeconomic statues, race, sex, and cultures.  We see it as a cry for help or a selfish act.  Someone will say that they are “okay” but is fighting an internal war within themselves. There may have been signs that McKinney was not himself, but it’s so easy not to catch the red flags.

In his column today, Denver Post columnist and ESPN’s “Around the Horn” panelist Woody Paige can attest to the red flags and the signs that his friend caught when Paige contemplating suicide.

Nevertheless, sports is treated as entertainment by us the fans, but the reality and daily grind of life we deal with is not immune to those who pick up a ball and run around a field all day.

McKinney wasn’t a first-round pick, wasn’t making double-digit millions of dollars per year, and was not highly sought after.  He was a 5th-round choice by Denver, making $385,000, and recently had surgery on his knee that placed him on injured reserve, thus ending his season before it began.  McKinney wasn’t a starter.  He was competing to stay on the team and play. The disappointment of not being able to play had to weigh on his mind heavily to a point where disappointment became failure and fell into despair and sadness.

Former First Lady Betty Ford (Anna Moore Butzner/The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press)

To the notion that he could afford to get help is different than seeking help.  You can “buy” help and not learn anything like Lindsay Lohan.  Betty Ford “seeked” help for alcoholism and won the battle of the bottle.  Secondly, athletes are as mentally “fragile” than we think they are.  Some put on the facade of a “superman” and “handling pressure” when privately they might be consumed with the fear of failure, high expectations, and outside personal issues so they can keep us happy and entertained so we can escape our problems.

Mental illness can no longer be swept under the rug in place of machismo and the alpha dog mentality in the locker room.  With the continuing discussion and studies of concussions and brain injuries in football, there could be a strong possibility that could link brain injuries to mental health or other neurological disorders and conditions.

But today, more than ever, it is not the time to ask “why” McKinney took his own life and the consequences of it.  Mental health isn’t some minor thing to shake off.  It takes acceptance, time, “mental” rehab, and the necessary tools to live each day, without feeling that the world would be better off without you.

You are not less of a man if you admit that you need help…to get your mental state of mind healthy again.

National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you want to know more about mental illnesses, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Iowa is having their annual walk on October 2nd at Water Works Park.  NAMI Iowa also have information and materials on hand to help you understand mental illness and depression.  Call them at 515-254-0417 or 800-417-0417.


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