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June 06, 2024 Book Review

John Weston Parry's The Burden of Sports: How and Why Athletes Struggle with Mental Health by

Arielle Zamora

In The Burden of Sports: How and Why Athletes Struggle with Mental Health, author and lawyer John Weston Parry, explores the implications of prioritizing profits at the expense of athletes’ mental health and physical well-being. While walking readers through the stories of some of the most well-known superstars like Simone Biles, Ronda Rousey and Tiger Woods, Parry shines a light on the various battles so many of them encounter. Athletes at all levels, from amateurs to professionals, face unique pressures that are often purposely overlooked. The pursuit of perfection, intense competition, and performance expectations contribute to severe stress and anxiety, all of which are encouraged and even rewarded by the organizations who should be protecting their athletes. Parry explains that while the scientific data has brought the public up to speed, the law remains years behind.

Parry addresses the role everyone plays in contributing to the demise of some of our most prized athletes. The spotlight of the media and the constant pressure to perform in front of millions can create an immense burden on athletes, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Spectators, often fueled by intense passion for their favorite teams or athletes, can sometimes exhibit hostile or unsupportive behavior, further exacerbating the stress felt by athletes. Sponsors and organizations, driven by financial interests and performance expectations, prioritize results over the well-being of athletes, pushing them to extreme lengths and neglecting their mental and physical health needs. Coaches, while aiming to drive performance, may inadvertently foster a culture of perfectionism and competition, disregarding the toll it takes on their athletes.

Thus, Parry poses important questions about how we can protect our athletes. He suggests that while the world of sports fosters near lawlessness, there are vital lessons to be learned to ensure history does not continue to repeat itself. After reading his cautionary anecdotes, lawyers can walk away understating the crucial role they can play in changing the systemic issues within sports culture. By advocating for policies and regulations that prioritize the mental and physical health of athletes, lawyers can help shift the narrative surrounding athlete care. They can work to ensure that organizations are held accountable for fostering healthy environments and drive meaningful change to promote a more supportive and inclusive environment for them to thrive both on and off the field.

A difficult but necessary read, The Burden of Sports: How and Why Athletes Struggle with Mental Health strips away the façade of sports culture and exposes it for what it is: a selfish financial machine that needs to be changed from within.

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Arielle graduated in May 2024 from Loyola University Chicago School of Law with a JD. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of California Los Angeles. She will be taking the California and Illinois bar exams. While clerking at Downey & Lenkov LLC, Arielle developed a passion for entertainment and sports law while learning from her mentor Brian Rosenblatt.