Mental health at heart of athletic trainers' PSA

'There are no issues that should not be talked about'

August 27th, 2020

The Major Leagues’ athletic trainers are in the business of soothing minds as much as bodies.

They’re calling attention to their efforts to encourage players to maintain a sound mental outlook. That’s essential in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which can prey upon psyches as well as health.

The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) has teamed with the U.S. Office of Disability Employment to tape a public service announcement emphasizing that effective conditioning encompasses brains as well as brawn.

Athletic trainers representing big league clubs who appear in the video include Pittsburgh’s Ben Potenziano, Minnesota’s Michael Salazar, Detroit’s Cody Derby and Milwaukee’s Nick Jensen.

In the video, the athletic trainers combined to emphasize four qualities, each beginning with the letter “a,” that ideally would be featured in a team’s mental-health environment: access, awareness, accommodations and assistance.

“These are the four things that need to be done to have good mental health in the workplace,” said Neil Romano, the chairman of the National Council on Disability, who helped coordinate the trainers’ efforts.

Romano said that Potenziano and another member of the Pirates’ athletic training staff, Todd Tomczyk, raised the issue of players’ mental health with him two years ago. They agreed, Romano recalled, that the need for coordinated mental-health programs in baseball “is more pronounced than ever before.”

Romano added that Major League athletic trainers voted unanimously to launch this initiative and are paying many of the expenses out of their own pockets. That reflects the depth and seriousness of their intent.

Romano, whose extensive baseball background includes teaming decades ago with the famed Joe Garagiola to warn players about tobacco use, pointed out that a concerted effort is necessary to alter the mindset of the average ballplayer.

“You have guys under tremendous amounts of pressure who may be afraid to say, ‘I’m having a difficult time of it right now,’” Romano said. “It’s not the macho thing to do, especially in something like professional sports. “They don’t want to be seen as someone who has to see a psychologist,” Romano said. “There are no issues that should not be talked about, accommodated, worked on and de-stigmatized.”

Romano believes that the athletic trainers’ program will be noticed and implemented by businesses other than baseball.

“This is designed for everybody,” he said. “In the workplace or anyplace else, do not be afraid to step up.”