Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Joey Votto makes fans, reveals other fans' hang-ups

From the when-the-going-gets-weird files: Some sports fans would be more comfortable with a gay ballplayer than one who, as Joey Votto self-defined, is dealing with "real life shit."

Please bear in mind it's best to focus on the positive. Votto, the Cincinnati Reds slugger who's from Toronto, handled it like a champ on Tuesday when he sat in the dugout at Rogers Centre and calmly explained (full audio is on YouTube) how the death of his dad, Joseph, at age 52 last summer led to what the Reds would only call "stress-related issues." Most of the media coverage was empathetic. The announced crowd of 30,000-plus gave him a warm ovation when he came to bat in the top of the first inning. It showed how much society has turned the corner with mental health issues, even within the last 10 years. Twenty-five years ago, Jim Eisenreich, who had Tourette's Syndrome, was run out of baseball for a time because people took his nervous disorder to be a "case of nerves."

It is amusing to read after the fact was that in some dark corners of the Internet, there was persistent speculation that Votto is gay. In other words, some twitbags could not comprehend a 25-year-old ballplayer who just lost a parent being depressed, so that has to be their default for everything. It's so stupid. No one should making that speculation about anyone. Doesn't that beat all?

Jim Buzinski at Outsports.com wrote, "I think this is a weird kind of progress. It was not too long ago that many fans denied there were gay players in pro sports. The acceptance of these rumors as being at least plausible shows that the average fan realizes that his favorite team might have a gay player."

(Jeff Pearlman noted that it is puerile to traffic in the "is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay? bullsh$# we affix to celebrities.")

Anyway, this is really about Votto. This space was already duty-bound to cheer for him since he is a Canadian ballplayer, but hopefully he made a few fans with the way he handled everything on Tuesday. For someone who is supposed to be a very private guy, it was pretty illuminating.

There is a fine balance for people with anxiety and depression. You need to make people aware of your condition, since at best it can only be managed (whether by meds or holistically, i.e., diet, exercise, staying engaged socially). At the same time, one cannot demand sympathy. Everyone else has their own stuff to deal with. The Cincy Enquirer ran most of his quotes in full:
"I got sick in May. I had the upper respiratory thing and the ear infection. It was the time away from baseball and recovering from being sick when, for the first time, all the emotions that I had been pushing to the side, that I had been dealing with and struggling with in the winter, hit me. They hit me a hundred times more than I had been dealing with.

"I was taken out of three separate games. The first game it was a combination of me being ill. But I could tell there was something going on. I couldn't recover. I had this feeling of anxiety. I had this feeling in my chest.

" ... I'm seeing doctors and being able to talk to them and doing the therapy part has been the biggest thing. I really hadn’t acknowledged how important it was to express the things that I had been dealing with on the inside. I hate to sound to like a real dramatic person. These were serious things that I was dealing with. To have someone to talk to was really important. To be able to talk to the team was really important. That’s probably been the most important thing."
Votto stressed that he had great support from the Reds, notably manager Dusty Baker and GM Walt Jocketty. One should not idly speculate how the situation would have been handled in a certain ice-based pro sport which normally dominates sports headlines in Southern Ontario.

Meantime, one has to laugh like hell that some people broke out the Jump To Conclusions mat when the Reds were keeping a lid on why Votto, their first baseman, had gone on the DL.

Of course, that would come to light when it's PRIDE Week in Toronto. D'oh!

Father's death affected Votto; Depression led to panic attacks and disabled list (John Fay, Cincinnati Enquirer)
Votto: 'I thought I was going to die' (Jeremy Sandler, National Post)
Player stressed, so fans conclude he must be gay (Jim Buzinski, Outsports.com; via Jeff Pearlman)

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