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

by Robert Gibbs 48

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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Flyer
2 years ago

The sport should help all athletes but just national team members

Scott Morgan
2 years ago

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.

Olnogame
2 years ago

The fact of the matter is, this needs to be a more relevant and approachable topic with all employers and within culture.

Luis Vargas
2 years ago

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 »

Seattle
2 years ago

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
Reply to  Seattle
2 years ago

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
Reply to  Seattle
2 years ago

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

HMMMMM
Reply to  Seattle
2 years ago

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
Reply to  Seattle
2 years ago

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
Reply to  Fluidg
2 years ago

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.

spectatorn
2 years ago

I got curious and checked USOPC website. In case you are interested:
National Medical Network – https://www.teamusa.org/Home/Team%20USA%20Athlete%20Services/Medical/National%20Medical%20Network
Mental Health – https://www.teamusa.org/Home/Team%20USA%20Athlete%20Services/Medical/Mental%20Health
Athlete Health Insurance – https://www.teamusa.org/Team-USA-Athlete-Services/Medical/Athlete-Health-Insurance

note that being part of “USOPC Elite Athlete Health Insurance program” is needed, which is defined as “The USOPC grants National Governing Bodies and U.S. Paralympics EAHI slots, which are then distributed to athletes based on criteria established by the NGB and approved by the USOPC.”

USA Swimming – EAHI info – https://www.usaswimming.org/docs/default-source/athlete-servicesdocuments/additional-support/elite-athlete-health-insurance-2019-2020-updated.pdf?sfvrsn=dc702032_6.

Sam
2 years ago

I’d say if you won an Olympic medal, USOPC should feel privileged and honored to take care of you, be it hunger, a broken finger or depression or addiction.

spectatorn
2 years ago

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… Read more »

Corn Pop
Reply to  spectatorn
2 years ago

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
Reply to  Corn Pop
2 years ago

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.”

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