Discussing the Importance of Support with Malcolm Lemmons
A new job, a new marriage, a new child, a new home – for good or for bad, these are major life changes, and change can be hard. The secret to successfully adapting to change is having a support network to help you. That network can be your family or a spouse, or even a small group of friends. On a larger scale – especially for those in the public eye – that support system should include several professionals who can help you. Financial experts, business managers, agents, lawyers: these professionals are there to protect your interests, and to help you move forward in the path you choose.
On episode three of the Schein On podcast, I sat down with Malcolm Lemmons, former athlete, entrepreneur, author and creator of the platform Athletes Unheard, to discuss the importance of getting the support you need – and what Lemmons is doing to make sure that athletes do.
Mental health, mental illness, and mental wellness
The phrase “mental health” is often (and erroneously) used as a synonym for “mental illness.” But as Lemmons points out during the podcast, those terms are not interchangeable.
“I think a lot of times people associate mental health with mental illness. And those are two completely different things….,” Lemmons said. “People hear mental health and they automatically cringe, or they get scared to talk about it because they think it means you’re going crazy, or you have something wrong with you when that’s completely untrue.”
To Lemmons, normalizing the discussion of mental health and mental wellness is a critical component to protecting and supporting amateur, student, and professional athletes. “We talk about physical health and fitness and when an athlete gets injured. You can see the injury; you can visibly tell what type of pain they’re going through when it comes to their body. Mental health is not like that,” he told Schein.
Many of the concerns have come to a head in 2020, as players were forced to choose between their jobs and their families. Trevor Ariza captured headlines when he opted not to play so he could spend time with his 12-year-old son, but many players entered “the bubble”: protective quarantine measures put in place so that athletes could continue to play. These efforts did not always work – multiple players, club members, and staff in the MLB ended up contracting COVID-19 – but even when athletes stayed physically healthy, their mental health suffered. The worry and the fear, along with the isolation, took its toll on players in every league, and on every team, who played during the season.
Lemmons created Athletes Unheard “in 2020 as a result of numerous reports that showed increased levels of mental health issues in many athletes including depression, PTSD, and anxiety.” Some players were experiencing these feelings because of COVID-19, but many were already under a tremendous amount of stress before the pandemic hit. Athletes Unheard gives those players a platform to learn how to manage those stresses, and to reduce the stigma associated with addressing mental health.
Everyone needs someone to trust
Lemmons told me that you need to have people you can trust around you, to help you through the tough times:
I think creating systems of trust and openness is very important. Just being there and asking, how are you feeling today? How are you? How are things going in your life? That question can go a long way and allow somebody to be transparent. Even if there is no expectation of depression or anxiety or that they’re feeling some type of way, just asking that question – “How are you doing today?” – especially in this day and age, is really important.
And then for the athletes who might not have the family members or people in their circle that they can go to or trust, I would say lean on coaches; lean on somebody in your life who you feel like you can kind of take that step with or build a relationship to where you’re able to be vulnerable, you’re able to be open. I feel like you have to have that person in your life, because no one can get through life alone.
And so it’s so important to really find a way to kind of bridge that gap and put somebody in your corner, or start to build trust with somebody that you feel like you can open to on some level, and just start that process.
This is especially important since players today are accessible and visible in ways they never have been before. Social media and 24-hours news and sports channels have made privacy difficult, if not impossible, for athletes. It creates a lot of “noise” for players, and a lot of additional stress. Athletes who have thousands of followers on social media are subjected to a near-constant barrage of commentary and trash talk. Having someone you know you can trust is important when it comes to filtering the negative out.
Your support needs to continue long after you’re finished playing
Lemmons credits much of what he learned playing basketball as the secret of his successes: hard work, diligence, consistency, teamwork, being able to work with people from different backgrounds, and organizational skills have all helped him succeed.
And he has the goods to back it up. Before he turned 30, Lemmons published two books, started an online platform to help athletes improve their mental health, and even hosted a podcast. He knew that one day, he would need a Plan B. And to have a successful Plan B, he would need people around him whom he could trust.
Part of the issue is the lack of financial literacy among young athletes, Lemmons explained. Suddenly, there’s an influx of money, and they don’t quite know what to do with it all, so they “delegate,” as Lemmons said, the responsibility to someone else because of “a lack of basic financial education.”
But if you don’t understand where your money is going or how it is being invested, you could stand to lose everything: to people with the hands out, to bad investments, or even to the government. And if you don’t have a professional support team who put your best interests first when it comes to protecting your brand or your family, you could be in for a world of trouble later.