Volume 96, Issue 68
Thursday, January 30, 2003

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Detrimental decision making

Super Bowl XXXVII came and went this past weekend, with the usual array of excitement and hype. Lost in the shuffle was the absence of one man, Oakland Raiders centre Barret Robbins, who made a premature exit from San Diego.

Raiders head coach Bill Callahan told Robbins to go home to San Francisco at a team meeting on Saturday night, after he had gone missing for the previous 24 hours.

Initially, it was assumed that Robbins was out, living the Super Bowl party life. On Monday, it became evident Robbins's absence might have been due to much graver circumstances.

According to reports, Robbins has suffered from depression and bipolar disorder for some time and had stopped taking his prescribed medication. Rather than going home, he, appropriately, checked into a San Diego hospital.

Robbins isn't the only athlete who has recently made headlines for struggles away from the game.

Theo Fleury, a Chicago Blackhawks forward and alcoholic, was picked up under the influence of alcohol by police in Ohio on Jan. 19, after an altercation at a strip club.

All this raises the question of accountability on behalf of athletes and the teams that employ them. Does the onus lie with the team to tell a troubled player to take time out and get better, or is it up to the player to know when to walk away?

Sport has always operated under a different standard than the rest of society. Professional athletes are under immense pressure from their organization, fans and peers. Echoed from every direction is the widely held notion to "be a man."

Athletes are extremely reluctant to disclose information which would paint them as less of a man in the public's eye. A prime example is the death of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer, due to heat exhaustion, on the first day of training camp in 2001.

While some current professional teams remain tightly knit, the same family atmosphere that existed in previous decades has been displaced by the constant player movement in modern sports. Players are less likely to forge deep bonds with each other when they change uniforms more often than socks.

Teammates need to watch out for each other. You can't help but point some fingers at the players (who remain somewhat anonymous) that were out with Fleury at a drinking establishment, knowing full well of his condition.

Organizations also need to take responsibility for the health of their players. That means doing more than simply having a doctor employed by the team give the OK for a player to compete.

Contrary to popular athletic belief, sport is not life and both athletes and organizations would do well to incorporate some perspective into their game plan.




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