You can’t ‘Skip’ mental health

Dismissing Dak Prescott’s depression is an example of national indifference

Michael Sicoli, Associate Opinion

Leadership has a convoluted definition. The intangible words society uses to describe it are straightforward — strong, respectful, honest — but the most common trait associated with leadership is the first adjective of the bunch. It is seen as a detriment, a flaw on the character sheet, to be weak rather than strong for even a moment. People who are thrust into leadership roles are put on a pedestal with critics constantly searching from every angle to find an imperfect mark.

Graphic By Connor Lawless

Being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys — ‘America’s Team’ — makes the criticism feel like a heat-seeking missile, but Dak Prescott has handled it well. He came into the league as a fourth-round pick in 2016 expected to contend for the backup job behind Tony Romo. However, Romo hurt his back and Prescott was forced into the starting role for Forbes’ most valuable sports franchise in the world. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and is set to be paid among the highest in the league when he enters free agency in 2021.

Yet Skip Bayless, a sports talk show personality on Fox’s “Undisputed,” ripped Prescott apart when the quarterback admitted on “The Graham Bensinger Show” that he has been battling severe depression since his brother, Jace Prescott, committed suicide in April.

“I don’t have sympathy for him going public with, ‘I got depressed. I suffered depression early in COVID to the point where I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of ‘America’s Team,’” Bayless said on “Undisputed” on Sept. 10. “If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spots, and it definitely could encourage others on the other side to come after you.”

Bayless can scream his awful sports opinions all he wants. When it comes to mental health, he needs to shut up.

Some things are bigger than sports and depression has been an underrepresented problem in the United States for a long time. As a member of the generation who’s second leading cause of death is suicide, I am devastated by how mental health is treated in this country.

Make no mistake: Prescott is not alone. Men are built from the ground up to bottle up their feelings and to “man up.” While to an extent there are good virtues from this, every person experiences moments of weakness. When people have been denying their faults and flaws, continuously pushing them away, they reach a breaking point. That’s when things turn for the worst.

Unexpected changes disrupt routine and alteration causes anxiety. The sliding scale of this disturbance can lead to different results. When someone loses a loved one, that drastic shift of routine combined with an inability to express or comprehend the emotions can lead to depression. This is not something that has a timeline. It’s not, “take these pills and expect results in a couple of weeks.”

It’s a nightmare. It seems unavoidable with no way to stop it from popping up again. One might get through the tunnel after a tough journey, but it may be a trip that one will take several times again. The nightmare may teach you something about yourself but at the cost of your well-being, possibly your own sanity. Sometimes, people don’t wake up.

As mentioned, Gen Z is more prone to experience these nightmares than anyone else. There are reasons why artists like Juice WRLD or Iann Dior are so popular — they appeal to the dispirited feelings of this generation. According to the APA report Stress in America: Generation Z published in October 2019, my generation is 12% more likely than any other generation to report their mental health as fair or poor.

Still, people like Bayless diminish the effect depression has on so many people. Since 2007, for the young age group of 15-21, suicide rates have risen by 45% for males and a devastating 87% for females, according to a study posted by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

People need to embrace their flaws and unleash their emotions. Preaching “manliness” and inner strength is important, but kids are dying and no one seems to care. Suicide and depression are far from political talking points in this country, but they are invisible plagues that people have no idea how to combat.

Outside of initial backlash from people on social media, Bayless has received no repercussions for his words. Since no punishment was doled down besides a cut-and-paste Fox statement about Bayless’ words, this has been nothing but a win for the host who just received thousands of clicks by bashing a man who battled depression after his brother died after fighting mental illness himself. There was no apology, nothing.

Nobody is asking for one. We know what type of man Bayless is — a shameless and unyielding sports personality who solely craves clicks and views, at best.

If you take anything away form this, please don’t ignore the signs. Always reach out. It may seem silly, it may seem insignificant, but showing that you care can be enough to help somebody take a step back from that cliff. With all the struggles COVID-19 has put upon Americans, be selfless and take an uncomfortable leap of faith to save a life.

“I think being a leader is about being genuine and being real … I think it’s important to be vulnerable, to be genuine, to be transparent,” Prescott said in response to Bayless’ comments. “I think that goes a long way when you’re a leader and when your voice is being heard by so many, and you can inspire.”

Be the best leader you can be. Be vocal when you feel the need to — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.