Can We Talk About Calvin Ridley and the Importance of Mental Health?

Calvin Ridley
Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The announcement that Calvin Ridley would be absent from Sunday’s game against the Panthers was sudden; a last-minute blow to a fan base that was riding an uncharacteristic wave of optimism after the Falcons pulled out two consecutive wins.

His statement that followed soon after, stating he would be stepping away from football to attend to his mental health, was equally surprising. Reactions varied, though the majority of fans and onlookers were supportive, but the shock was palpable.

This season was supposed to be Ridley’s coronation as an elite receiver. Falcons fans expected to see Ridley be the greatest weapon on a resurgent offense. However, questions have replaced the high expectations set for Ridley, and everyone is left to wonder if the budding star at wide receiver will suit up again in 2021. It’s a massive blow to a team struggling to find their way. Ridley’s absence is inconvenient, unfortunate, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter one bit. 

Life is Bigger than Football

Football is a huge business. Billions of dollars move through the NFL every year as people flock to stadiums and gather around televisions to watch the exploits of supremely talented athletes every weekend. It’s a momentary distraction from the mundane, a place to invest and express strong emotions without any great consequence.

Its position in our culture, the extent to which it shapes the rhythms of our lives, gives it an exaggerated sense of magnitude. It is, in the end, just a game, and its importance diminishes to nothing compared to real societal issues. Mental health, and our relationship with those who struggle with it, are just one of those.

It’s heartening to see the outpouring of support that he has received since releasing his statement. It’s not been unanimous; nothing in society ever is. Still, the overarching sentiment has been supportive of Calvin Ridley, signaling a welcome shift in how we discuss mental health, particularly among men. There is no weakness in seeing a problem and seeking help, and I’m grateful we are finally open to having that conversation.

Mental Health Is Health

Mental health isn’t a subcategory of living; some tertiary factor in having a quality life that only deserves a spare thought once in a while. Mental health is tantamount to quality of life. I’m entering my middle-aged years, and I’ve already lost friends and family to cancer, heart disease, and the litany of ailments that come with failing physical health.

However, I’ve said goodbye to just as many due to addiction and suicide. I was 15 years old when my best friend killed herself. A year later, I lost a friend to an overdose for the first time. Those were just my first traumatic losses. There have been more since, and there will likely continue to be more. I know I’m not alone either. It’s a pandemic that permeates the very fabric of our culture. Depression and anxiety are everywhere. It touches everyone. It is part of who we are. 

The only cure for this, the only path forward, is to end the stigma surrounding mental health. We have to accept that all of us face problems and that sometimes we need help. We must openly support those that do seek and not diminish their worth for doing so.

Seeking mental health assistance is no different from going to the doctor because of chest pains or broken bones. This is why I celebrate Calvin Ridley for prioritizing his mental health and seeking to heal himself. If he’d torn his ACL, we’d all wish him a speedy recovery and move on. Despite our knee-jerk tendencies for judgment, there’s no reason to treat this differently.

Calvin Ridley Has Earned His Privacy and Respect

We have no idea what Ridley is going through, and we likely won’t ever learn the details surrounding his absence. That shouldn’t be an expectation any of us have. Despite some strange sense of entitlement a portion of our population has concerning people in the entertainment industry, it’s none of our damn business.

Ridley’s brief statement already exceeds any burden of transparency we should reasonably expect. His responsibilities to inform people of his position end with his employer.

Unlike a broken bone or torn ligament, there’s no precise timetable for a return. That’s the nature of this beast, and any expectations otherwise are unfair. It will take as long as it takes. If he comes back next week, next year, or never at all, that’s a decision for Calvin to make.

Focus on the Big Issues First

There will be a time to discuss the monetary implications of his absence. Still, those conversations should be a part of a more extensive discussion about supporting Calvin Ridley — and all people who struggle with mental health issues. Ridley is privileged in that he has the means to walk away from his job and seek assistance, but that doesn’t diminish his struggle. Instead, that should start a conversation about supporting those who don’t have the same financial resources. 

There will be a time to discuss the impact this has on the team moving forward. However, that’s a discussion that exists in a bubble of its own. It’s a far less meaningful conversation. For many, the NFL is life, but life will always be bigger than the shield. 

Most of all, I ask we all be thoughtful in how we discuss this issue publicly. Ridley deserves respect, but, more importantly, you never know who else is listening to how you respond. Our world is full of people who need help but don’t know how to ask.

Don’t let a flippant comment or tweet be a reason a friend suffers silently. Don’t reinforce the toxic behaviors that hold us back. Allow this moment to be an opportunity for us all to grow, to take the next step, small as it may be, towards a happier, healthier society. 

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