In Light of New Lawsuit, Phelps Talks USOPC’s Lack of Mental Health Resources

by Robert Gibbs 50

February 12th, 2020 Mental Health, National, News

Michael Phelps, who’s already been on record suggesting that the United States Olympic Committee (now United States Olympian and Paralympic Committee), needs to do more to help athletes who are struggling with depression, has more to say on the topic in light of William Moreau’s lawsuit alleging that he was fired by USOPC for questioning how it handled sexual assaults and mental health treatments.

According to an article in the Washington Post, when the Post asked Phelps how USOPC leadership responded after he went public about his battle with depression while swimming, he responded with silence, indicating that’s what he had heard from the USOPC.

“How long should I stay silent? I can sit here and be silent for as long as you want, because that’s what I got.”

In the Post article, Phelps echoed statements he’s made before, saying that USOPC offers no resources for dealing with depression and suicidal ideations and that he suspects that periodic depression may affect up to 70% of Olympians.

Not only does USOPC not help athletes in this regard, Phelps says, but to the contrary, he was concerned that had he disclosed his struggles with depression while an active swimmer, that information would not have remained confidential. “At his height as a competitor, Phelps feared if he confessed the need for help to a USOC official, it would spread all over the organization,” says the Post.

“I don’t know of anything they’ve done to help us mental health-wise,” Phelps says. “There are a lot of us who feel the same exact way, and we’re pretty hurt that they choose not to do anything about it. . . . I believe they only care about us when we’re swimming well or competing well.”

Moreau, who previously was USOPC’s vice president of sports medicine, has alleged in his lawsuit that “USOC is not following standards of care relating to the management of suicidal athletes.” USOPC executives have disputed Moreau’s account, including why he was let go from the organization.

Regardless of the merits of Moreau’s specific claims, it is clear that mental health continues to be an issue for athletes, especially swimmers. In just the past year, high-level swimmers like Ashley Neidigh, Jack LeVant, and Tom Shields have opened up about their mental health struggles, joining the ranks of elite of swimmers who had previously spoken about the topic, including Phelps, Ian Thorpe, and Allison Schmitt, just to name a few.

USA Swimming does seem to be taking steps to help address athletes’ mental health concerns, including partnering with Talkspace to offer mental service to all National Team athletes.

If you or someone you know has had suicidal thoughts or exhibited any of the warning signs, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website here (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) if you’re in the US.

You can find a list of international hotlines here.

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mike_in_dallas

Having read the article, I’m not really sure why elite athletes feel as though USOPC has a legal/moral obligation to help them with these mental health issues.If that organization wanted to do, that’s fine. But how/why are they obligated to do so?
If they were employees of that organization, they might well claim the need for proper insurance to cover these medical needs.
Or, are we to conclude that athletes cannot afford insurance so USOPC should foot the bill. Perhaps, but i don’t see that as a legal or moral obligation.

Jimbo

Legal maybe not but I feel like I would have a moral obligation to them. I surely wouldn’t want anyone to be in a situation like Shields or Phelps. I feel like it would be in their humanity to help

anonymous

As someone who has personally struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts related to swimming, I can say that it should be necessary. I know I’m not the first to have experienced this either. I also can’t see any reason for the USOPC not to support the athletes that they rely on.

Coach Mike 1952

Key word = rely. Reason enough

Sun Yangs Hammer

Supporting their athletes leads to better performance in the pool so why not. Fast swimming is their job.

David Berkoff

Really Mike? You’ve obviously never been at the elite level or have never suffered from serious depression. I don’t often share my personal issues but I can tell you that from my experience success and fame is not always a painless blessing. I have suffered from depression for twenty plus years and one root of it is the let down I and many other people have experienced going from intense training, goal-setting, competition, success, adulation, fame and Adeline-filled excitement to a comparatively tame life and an almost boring normalcy. I should write a book… MP is correct that depression in elite athletics an invisible issue and should be looked at and soon. I praise our current stars like MP and… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn

For all you know David, Mike could be suffering from depression (he lives in Dallas, ffs), but his point is valid about the legal and moral obligations of a non-employer. And while I’m sorry for your struggles, I wouldn’t say it’s restricted to elite athletes and pull out the “never been at the elite level” card. Depression doesn’t care how fast you swim or whether you went to the Olympics. While it would be nice if USOPC were more supportive, remember they’re part of the hype machine that direct TV viewing and therefore sponsorships and endorsements and helped make Phelps so wealthy and contributed to your “fame.” It’s not like Phelps couldn’t afford a team of psychiatrists since 2008. Depression… Read more »

anonymoose

i swear, thank god berkoff is commenting very rarely because nearly without fail its always some kind of obnoxious judging, whiteknighting, overreacting to other peoples comments and so on.
it seems he only comments when he is consumed with outrage about something and just writes something out of pure impulsivity

Ol' Longhorn

He grandstands. Psychologists Nadav Klein and Nicholas Epley got it right when they wrote, “Few biases in human judgment are easier to demonstrate than self-righteousness.”

Snarky

Said the biggest grandstander.

MIKE_IN_DALLAS

When David Berkoff writes, “You’ve obviously never been at the elite level or have never suffered from serious depression,” I don’t know whether to laugh or guffaw! Are you serious? How would you know anything about me, yet you sarcastically assume that because I didn’t win ‘a relay gold medal’ I am terminally stupid about health issues. And as to my personal health history, well, I tend to keep such matters private – I don’t need an electronic ‘shout board’ to let the world know what’s going on – apparently, some do. As someone who deals with counseling adolescents on a daily basis, I would say your irrational lashing out is nothing short of some kind of self-protection mechanism which… Read more »

Taa

I believe you can’t issue a health insurance policy without mental health benefits. Its illegal to do so? I don’t know the exact rule maybe you do? If you are going to pay to fix a broken leg then you are going to pay to fix their mental health also. Why wouldn’t you provide this benefit anyway. Your reaction seems hateful. What do you have against swimmers with mental health problems? If you can step back a second and realize that WE are the sport and it’s just a matter of us demanding that the athletes being taken care of and be provided the needed treatment. So the “good reason” you are looking for is that the rest of us,… Read more »

David Berkoff

You attacked Phelps, essentially said today’s millennial elite athletes are freeloaders, I point out that I suffer from the same thing, praise Phelps and others for talking about this issue, and I’m the bad guy because I hurt your feelings. Now that’s funny.

Ol' Longhorn

Missed the attack on Phelps. Missed the Millenial athletes are freeloaders. But I did get loud and clear that because we may or may not have gone to the Olympics, experienced “fame,” that you don’t view Mike’s opinions as valid. Elitism to the extreme. Give it a rest.

D1Swammer

My swimming career came to an end prematurely due to issues with mental health stemming from swimming. Our athletes shouldn’t have to face that decision because they couldn’t get it under control on their own. With the nature of the sport, having those kind resources at that level of play is a necessity.

AZswummer

Read the full article in The Post, it really makes one think, regardless of the side you lean towards

MindoMom

Sports organizations financially benefit from the athletes that represent them, so the USOPC should absolutely be responsible for Olympic athletes’ mental and physical health. Coaches are absolutely culpable in terms of first line of assistance, but if the athletes have to abide by their individual sport’s governing body and the USOPC, then they are obligated as well. Period.

Corn Pop

So this organisation is responsible for the physical & mental health of all US Olympians past & present forever ? At least they saved on 1980 .

Fluidg

Is Mike a lawyer? Sounds like an audition for a job with the USOPC. Two things: first, Moreau claims that the organization didn’t follow its own policies. What does that tell you about their ethical and legal responsibility? Second, training and the elite athlete lifestyle can directly induce clinical depression, or the exact same symptoms. Some of it is physiological and the direct psychological effects that result from chemical imbalances created by depleted glycogen levels. The two combine in a downward spiral. The mental stress, social isolation, high expectations, stigmatized and general lack of mental health care in our society mean that sports organizations have a moral obligation to listen and act in the interest of their athletes. The last… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn

Is FLUIDG a neuroscientist? A psychiatrist? Someone who takes a lawsuit as fact? The brain is different than muscle. Glycogen-derived lactate fuels the astrocytes during exhaustive exercise. It’s a fail-safe mechanism. Sure there are hormonal stress responses but the glycogen depletion theory ain’t what’s happening. https://www.pnas.org/content/114/24/6358

Fluidg

“Over training and elite athletes”, a JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article in a 1983 issue. It describes how overtraining can result in depleted glycogen levels which disrupts sleep patterns, compounding fatigue levels. The collective symptoms are identical to clinical depression. The journal belonged to my father, a Princeton-trained psychiatrist. There were always plenty of JAMA issues laying around for me to read. I was home for a visit and the title caught my eye. As I read that article, it was like reading my own personal story. We trained 7 days a week and swam 18-20k per day, plus weights and running. I crashed. My white cell count skyrocketed, my immune system collapsed, and I got shingles.… Read more »

Fluidg

I referred to “claims” in the lawsuit. Where did I say anything about its facts? No, I have a psychology degree, but my Masters is in a different field. I don’t claim to be an expert. Just speaking from personal experience.

spectatorn

the problem and the sad part is that this type of “obligation” need to be settle in court.

I agree with Moreau that suing USOPC not following its own policies is the necessary step to bring the issue into the spotlight. Most swimmers does not have the knowledge or money to flight this battle in court, while they were dealing with mental health issue and the uncertainty that brings to their career and thus earning capability.

MBswim

The same way the school you attend or your employer should be able to help you find the resources you need if you reach out for help, the usopc should have been better equipped to help their athletes who are essentially their employees. The fact that the usopc spends so much time looking out for the physical side of their athletes health but put little effort in helping their athletes access the mental health resources they need when it was no secret that the post olympic depression phenomenon existed and knowing that competing and training at the Olympic level is mentally draining and isolating makes it even more despicable that they neglect to address need for mental health resources. Like… Read more »

spectatorn

You bring up a legitimate point that why USOPC. I think the bigger question is the fact that “Professional Swimmer” is just a term for swimmers to accept prize or endorsements (vs the NCAA restrictions). No one employs Professional Swimmer so there is no employer to offer work structure (place of work, work hour, etc) or benefit (health insurance, worker comp, paid vacation, etc). So being a Professional Swimmer is essentially self-employ and thus “expected” to handle and manage all their well being or work condition on their own. While USOPC is not employing the swimmers, they are profiting from the performance of the swimmers. If that is considered a contracting relationship or somewhat of business relationship – then swimmers… Read more »

Corn Pop

Professional swimmers still only compete ( if qualified) at the Olympic every 4 years . What else is the relationship?

For other olympians , their sport is not a career , it is a window of opportunity to follow on with however they wish . Many do not want to be tied to their Olympic body .

spectatorn

USOPC’s mission statement indicate it is interested and investing in athletes (including swimmers) beyond Olympics:
“Empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being.”

Seattle

Phelps only disingenuously found or disclosed his “mental illness” when he needed it as a marketing ploy following two DUIs and the infamous bong incident. No way Peter Carlisle and Octagon would have allowed its cash cow to seek mental health treatment at the height of his Olympic success. Phelps is more than happy to burn down USOPC and USA Swimming now that he is no longer swimming and profiting as a member of Tram USA, and when he can profit off of endorsements from mental health organizations.

Gary

I agree with this assessment of Phelps’ motives, I have read his various biographies/autobiographies, and one thing that is clear is that he was never deprived of access to physicians–indeed he had to have physicians monitoring him in putting him on and off of ADHD medications as he discusses. He (or his family or agents) knew how to find medical support. The USOPC and NGBs are in a tough situation in that when they have provided access to medical support, they get sued for malfeasance of the physicians (many of whom may be under-qualified or worse due to the orgs’ lack of resources to pay top dollar). Indeed, that is why the USOPC looked to remove the chiropractor Moreau from… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn

Not to mention his commercial earnings for his televised ads for Talkspace, which isn’t a mental health organization. It’s a bidness.

HMMMMM

Maybe you’re right. Maybe he didn’t have issues with mental illness. Maybe he is using this as an excuse to stay in the limelight. The key word there being MAYBE. I do not doubt for a second that athletes can experience mental health fallouts after an event like the Olympics. I’m not saying you’re alleging this isn’t true, I just think it’s irresponsible to suggest someone might be playing up their mental illness to make money. There are hundreds of athletes who go through depression when they leave this sport, please do not suggest that one of them might be faking as a marketing strategy without evidence. Drinking and drug use can be a side effect of mental illness, so… Read more »

Fluidg

Quite an openly hostile statement there, Seattle. No doubt, a psychologist could stay busy unpacking it to diagnose your own repressed mental health issues. Phelps went public about his mental health struggles after rehab and therapy rescued him from a very dark place. It took courage to take his problems public. His financial risk was far greater than any potential financial reward. There’s a deep stigma attached to mental health issues, and a lot of people love to judge others, especially the famous and powerful. There’s a suicide epidemic in our society, especially among young people. Voices like Phelps’, Schmitt’s, Tom’s, and others make a real difference and their courage to speak out will save lives.

BrotherDownUnder

You’re defending the rights of mental health by using your perception of someone’s mental health via an internet comment section as an attack?

That’s the weirdest flex I’ve seen today, bru.

Luis Vargas

I do not think anyone said they have the obligation to do so did they? Maybe I missed that part in the lawsuit article. But its a good discussion none the less. The more we can do for our elites who give up their life for not a lot of monetary reward the better. Maybe those in the Senior National Team not in college or high school should become employees of USA Swimming and get benefits. Their job would be to help grow the sport and train. That seems to me like one solution. The other solution is for PROs to form a union and have that union take care of insurance and benefits. This issue is no unique to… Read more »

Scott Morgan

If you think USOPC should not or does not have any obligations to their primary stakeholders–ie the athletes that are the purpose of their existence, and whose fees and efforts allow them to continue existing–I’d say I don’t know what planet you’re on.

Psychologist

We share a right to be able to develop our physical and mental wellbeing to the best of our ability…that is wellbeing should never be based on any other factor other than we are human. Now, as to sports people, they have this right. Not to act when we know another will be harmed is negligent. Some may elect to shroud mental or physical support in legalise, but be in no doubt, anyone who seeks to deny another of support, especially if an individual is a member of their organisation, is acting in a negligent manner. Look in the mirror..you, yes you, or responsible for being there when it matters.

Ol' Longhorn

Did they “seek to deny it” (which implies intent) or didn’t offer it? Were they even asked to support Phelps? Did Phelps ask for help and they denied him? No. He was suspended twice. The USOC CEO at the time of his second suspension said, “We think the sanctions are appropriate and we are glad that Michael is seeking help. We are grateful that nobody was hurt and appreciate the speed at which USA Swimming and Michael took action.”

Fluidg

What exactly is your position here regarding mental health issues? It sounds like you are advocating for less help, less availability, less access to treatment. Am I misreading something?

Ol' Longhorn

My first position is that it’s inappropriate to call out individual commenters like they’re some sort of imbecile unless it’s Yozhik. Second, I’d rather USOPC dedicate time and funds to cleaning up their sexual abuse/Larry Nasar problems (and the lawsuits and claims related to them) and their sex trafficking involvement (if proven in the lawsuits alleging that). Mental illness is rampant and much more prevalent and devastating in poor socioeconomic classes (i.e., not swimming). I’m a lot more concerned about the millions affected who are not famous. I’m not saying the suffering is real in Olympic swimmers or diminishing it.USOPC is funded by corporate America and individual donors. We’ve seen what corporate America’s priorities have been the past 4 years.… Read more »

Snarky

Put the shovel down.

Fluidg

So you’re a crusader, standing up for the poor and underprivileged? Thanks for clarifying that. I’m sure your halo is visible in person. You don’t seem like it, but I’m sure you’re really a kind individual.

Scott Morgan

He’s just being a whataboutist reply guy.

Taa

At this point the minimum would be to do a mental health screening as part of any physical they administer. Secondly to support these athletes you would have a strong mental health benefit as part of the insurance plan they are given. My daughter struggled and was sent home by her coach and he called me in and told me she could come back when she had clearance from a mental health professional. I was grateful for the coach’s action in the matter. For some swimmers the swimming is part of the problem and for others it can be a form of therapy. Having anyone involved from the usopc in someone’s mental health treatment is probably a conflict of interest… Read more »

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