We've got a habit of forgetting that professional athletes are subject to a lot of the same difficulties in life as everyone else. Whether because of their salaries or their fame, it's often assumed that life is easier for them .
This baseball season is telling a different story, however. We've seen several players head to the disabled list with diagnoses of anxiety or stress disorders. Last week Ian Snell of the Pirates raised some eyebrows when he admitted that he asked to be sent down to AAA, a move that seemed odd until he admitted on Wednesday that he'd been dealing with suicidal thoughts during his time in the big leagues.
Coming on the heels of the struggles of Khalil Greene, Joey Votto and Dontrelle Willis, Snell's issues cast further light on an issue that has probably always been part of the lives of baseball players but was rarely spoken about. Major League Baseball's official party line is that mental illness is treated no differently than physical injury, but that's only half the story.
The other half is the stigma that comes with admitting to problems with anxiety or stress in any high-pressure job. Fair or not, people who make these admissions get judged by others who can't possibly know how little control the player has over these feelings. That's going to lead to them being treated differently, passed over for other players and, ultimately, to fewer players coming forward for help.
That doesn't happen when a player tears a ligament. Nor do players coming back from Tommy John surgery have to deal with fans who might not be so kind if they know that a player is struggling emotionally. There's no solution to those problems, which begs the question of why so many players are coming forward all at once.
Zack Greinke may have something to do with it. The Royals pitcher left the team three years ago with an anxiety disorder and was very open about talking about his struggles with it, especially when it came to playing baseball. Grienke perservered, however, and is 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA so far in 2009.
It's not quite Jackie Robinson, but Greinke seems to have opened a door that needed opening in baseball. It's heartening to see players walking through it, because these are serious problems that need treatment beyond extra batting practice or bullpen sessions.