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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Jimbo
1 year ago

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
1 year ago

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
Reply to  anonymous
1 year ago

Key word = rely. Reason enough

Sun Yangs Hammer
1 year ago

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

David Berkoff
1 year ago

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… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  David Berkoff
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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
Reply to  anonymoose
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Said the biggest grandstander.

Taa
Reply to  David Berkoff
1 year ago

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
Reply to  David Berkoff
1 year ago

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
Reply to  David Berkoff
1 year ago

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.

Psychologist
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Psychologist
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Fluidg
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Put the shovel down.

Fluidg
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Fluidg
1 year ago

He’s just being a whataboutist reply guy.

D1Swammer
1 year ago

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
1 year ago

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

MindoMom
1 year ago

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
Reply to  MindoMom
1 year ago

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