Sky launches mental health initiative ‘The Net’
“In order to be your best self on the court, you have to have your mind right.”
Sky guard Rebekah Gardner has a point. Mental health is something that affects everyone, including professional athletes. The Chicago Sky wanted to do their part and launched “The Net” during their game against the Connecticut Sun on Sunday, August 7th.
The Net is an initiative that makes mental health a priority for athletes that is in partnership with a Chicago agency, O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul. It has an assortment of resources from mental health and wellness coach Dr. Janet Taylor, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Illinois Mental Health Collaborative and NAMI Chicago.
“We’ve always been a team that understands that it’s bigger than basketball,” general manager/head coach James Wade said. “This is something that everybody is passionate about. We understand that you spend a lot of time away from your family and your loved ones. When you do that, you want to be in a good space.”
Gardner, Ruthy Hebard and Azurá Stevens joined in pushing the initiative forward. Each of them shared their own personal stories about why mental health is important to them through video messages that were shown during the game.
“I think it was big for me when I was in college,” Hebard said before the game. “I would see people like Liz Cambage and Kevin Love write about how they struggle, too. So letting people know that even professional athletes struggle and need a helping hand sometimes.”
The Sky created player trading cards for Stevens, Hebard and Gardner with an action shot on the front and tips and tricks to manage mental health on the back. The team and staff wore t-shirts during warm-ups with the mantra ‘Keep your Head in the Game’ written on the back. The shirt was also handed out to fans.
Prior to tip-off, the Sky also held a mental health panel that was open to anyone attending the game. To Stevens’ surprise, many youth and children were there to listen to her as well as mental health experts from the Chicagoland area.
“I’m really big at empowering our future generation,” Stevens said after the game. “To see a lot of kids there was special. It feels amazing. I want kids to remember that as athletes, I know it seems like we’re perfect but we’re not . Anything I can do to help make them feel that, I’m all for it.”
The Sky’s mental health clinician and sports psychologist Patrice Whitfield was on the sidelines and had a moment of recognition during the game.
“I think that athletes are often seen as role models. So it’s great to see them be advocates for mental health. It makes that stigma go down and the conversations keep happening,” Whitfield said.