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‘If a fan can hear that side of an athlete, maybe they’d have a little more empathy’

ESPN NHL reporter Emily Kaplan acknowledges the importance of mental health in storytelling and approach to everyday life. Kaplan explains why

Emily Kaplan
(Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Front Row speaks with Emily Kaplan. The ESPN.com NHL reporter has written many stories surrounding mental health issues in the sport (see a sampling of tweets below). As she demonstrates in the Around The Horn excerpt above and in the Q-&-A below, Kaplan is passionate about mental health awareness.

Can you talk about mental health and its importance to you?
My mom sent me to a therapist when I was in elementary school, and at the time, I was really ashamed by it.

I thought it made me weird, and I didn’t really understand it. Why weren’t any of my friends going? Growing up, I think I realized how normal it is. Honestly, I am grateful to my mom for normalizing that in my life.

I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], depression, and it wasn’t until I personally was invested in going to therapy and addressing my mental health that I felt like I started making strides. It took me a while to get to that point, but now I feel very comfortable talking about it.

I’m so inspired by others who can share it so publicly because I understand how hard that is with the fear of being judged. That’s why I’m so grateful for all the athletes that I’ve talked to that have wanted to open up to me. because it shows a trust and an appreciation for what we all have in common.

How do you think your stories around mental health in this sport have impacted fans and other athletes over the years?
What I hope is that it offered them empathy. We treat professional athletes as commodities; we talk about their contracts, their value to a franchise, their stats, and we forget that they’re human beings. If our stories could talk about how they’re feeling, their emotions, they have high days and low days.

When you hear that, we realize that we actually have more in common than we think. If a fan can hear that side of an athlete, maybe they’d have a little more empathy. And, hey, if your favorite player isn’t performing as well as you expect them to, maybe there’s a reason, and we can be a little less harsh and a little kinder.

Have you been reached out to directly after publishing a story that positively impacted someone?
Yes, a couple of times, and often the response is, “I thought I was alone and then I realized I wasn’t alone” or “this athlete went through an experience and I went through the exact same thing.”

I think that is the most rewarding part about it, because inherently, I have a platform, and I get to share stories. These are all stories that exist, but I can share them with the world. If there’s just one person who reads a story, and gets inspired by it to make a change in their life or address something in their life, that’s the power of the platform.

Shelby L. Lacy produced the video above based upon Kaplan’s segment on Around The Horn.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post links to ESPN International’s page recognizing Mental Health Awareness Week in the United Kingdom. May is Global Mental Health Awareness Month.

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