Today is seven years on from a major sporting tragedy, and yet outside the confines of it’s home country, barely a word will be spoken or written about it. Yet there is plenty that both fans and professional athletes can learn from it, but sadly precious little lessons seemed to have. Who is Robert Enke you may ask? He was a German goalkeeper who outwardly from a fans perspective seemed to be living a dream life, until he did the unthinkable. He committed suicide at the height of his fame.
With the increasing amounts of money being pumped into professional sports such as football, it reinforces the view professional athletes are somehow not human. With the celebrity lifestyle of a professional athlete it’s assumed by the general public it’s acceptable to say almost anything about these players.
Professional sports are also a hugely macho environment, where any sign of weakness is pounced upon by everyone from team mates to the media. To admit to any symptoms of mental health would be seen as a weakness, something that would give everyone free access to question an athletes ability. In short it would be something that would negatively affect them for the rest of their career.
So how many professional athletes in major sports are currently suffering with symptoms of mental health in silence? Stats from a 2014 FIFPRO study found that one in four professional footballers suffer from depression or anxiety conditions,although the real figure could be much higher as many players may not want to admit to any symptoms for fear of damage to reputation or a perception of weakness amongst team mates. FIFPRO, the international players union, found that 26% of current footballers and 39% of retired footballers suffer from mental health issues.
Robert Enke with his daughter Lara, who tragically passed away aged two in 2006. Was this a factor in his second and final bout of depression. Photo copyright Daily Mail.
Within the U.K programs for players suffering with these issues are struggling to match other European nations. For example Germany have implemented wide ranging changes since the passing of Enke, with every club now required to provide psychiatric help for players and a 24 hour anonymous hotline for players to contact in case of emergency. The Robert Enke foundation also works to raise awareness of the condition amongst the general public.
In the high pressure world of football, it’s easy to players to become susceptible to mental health issues. A lot of professionals have been playing for club since a very young age, therefore a lot of their self worth is tied up in football. This becomes an issue with long periods between playing, such as injury or lack of form. For Enke his first bout of depression came in the summer of 2003, after a year spent largely on the sidelines. It was here that feelings of alienation and worthlessness developed, leading to a pronounced period of depression.
It’s likely this problem is larger than we think, with the incessant pressure from the media, coaches, team mates and fans not to make any mistakes on or off the pitch. With so much attention it’s easy to understand how players can develop mental health issues during or after their career. Without support in place for these players, they are in danger of falling through the cracks of society, in a place for which they may not think they can get out of.
We as a society can learn a lot from the untimely death of Robert Enke, his is a cautionary tale of how the perceptions of professional footballers are they’re living the dream, but on the inside they could be living with a pain very few people could see. Fame and fortune are no guarantee of a happy lifestyle, just ask the Enke family.
What are your views on this issue? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.