First baseman David Denson made Major League Baseball history without even stepping onto a big league field.

According to Tom Haudricourt in an article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Denson's path to the history books began about a month ago when one of his teammates made a homophobic joke directed his way. That's when Denson took a leap of faith and shared something with his teammates: He's gay.


He can also hit a 515-foot home run, so there's that. GIF from dplbaseball.

To his surprise and relief, his teammates — members of the Milwaukee Brewers' minor-league affiliate in Helena, Montana — accepted him with open arms, telling him, "You're still our teammate. You're still our brother."


Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images.

As it turns out, there's never been an active, openly gay player affiliated with an MLB team before. Denson is the first.

Denson isn't the first gay man to play baseball — players like Glenn Burke and Billy Bean came out after their playing careers came to a close, and it's almost a certainty that of the 1,200 players currently on MLB 40-man rosters, there are a handful of closeted players — but he is the first to "go public" with that news, if you will.


In professional sports — and in men's sports, in particular — coming out as gay can make for a challenging career.

As much of the world has gotten to the point of at very least being able to accept gay individuals in the world around them, there's still a massive stigma when it comes to athletes.

Take, for example, Michael Sam, who made history in 2014 as the first out gay football player to be drafted by an NFL team.

After being drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams, Sam had an impressive pre-season before ultimately getting cut by the team.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images.

Unable to land a roster spot on another NFL team, Sam planned to play this season for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League as he continued to pursue his dream of playing pro football.

Last week, after playing just one game with the Alouettes, Sam announced via Twitter that he was walking away from the game of football.

"The last 12 months have been very difficult for me, to the point where I became concerned with my mental health. Because of this, I am going to step away from the game at this time. I thank the Alouettes for this opportunity, and hope to be back on the field soon. Thank you all for your understanding and support." — Michael Sam

Earlier this year, a report came out suggesting that the U.S. lags far behind other countries when it comes to accepting gay athletes.

A survey of six English-speaking countries — the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland — found U.S. athletes perceived more homophobia from fans and teammates than any of the other countries. 54% of U.S. athletes surveyed reported that lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes were accepted "only slightly or not at all."

Out U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

So, why is it such a big deal that Denson came out? Because he had every reason not to.

He's 20 years old. He has everything to lose.

When former pro basketball player Jason Collins came out as gay in 2013, he was 33 years old, on the tail end of his playing career, and had earned more than $34 million. Had coming out ended his career, he had all that to fall back on.

Denson doesn't have that. He is ranked as the 27th best player in the Brewers' minor league system. There's a real chance that he may never reach the big leagues.

He has the support of his teammates and the Brewers organization; that's crucial.


He opened up about who he is even though he's certainly well aware of the possible outcome. That's courage.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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