I never thought I would be writing an op-ed for a sports journalism organization. But I’m infuriated. Infuriated is not the right word for it—I feel a deep sense of sorrow, of anguish, of sadness and severe disappointment after hearing Skip Bayless’ comments about Dak Prescott today. This is a topic I can’t remain silent on, because I’ve been in Dak’s shoes before.
My name is Matthew Blaustein. From the outside, I’m a 6’4” college sophomore with a scruffy beard who constantly has a goofy smile on his face, loves playing Mario Kart with his friends, hits the gym as much as possible, and, most of all, loves watching and writing about sports. I’m pretty much the prototypical “gentle giant”. But on the inside, I’m still very much the third grader who was seeing a therapist once every two weeks for depression. It’s been twelve years and depression has remained a constant in my life each and every day.
Depression manifests in many different ways. For me, it mostly manifests in a low attention span. Things like writing articles for TWSN, producing music, designing a rush logo for clothes for my fraternity, and even spending time with friends and loved ones—depression disallows my brain to focus and enjoy these things. My depression also comes in different waves: on some days I can barely get out of bed and choose to lay still and cry; on others, I can go along my day relatively normally with a smile on my face. But depression never has — and never will be — something I am ashamed of.
Mr. Bayless, depression is not a weakness. Interpreting it as such only adds to the stigma myself and millions of other people fight every single day. Individuals battling depression are capable of absolutely amazing things—for example, my depression has fueled me to produce over one-hundred songs, write acclaimed articles for my local newspaper, get into my dream school (the University of Wisconsin-Madison), take greater risks, and most of all, form valuable bonds with numerous people that have made my life absolutely incredible.
I empathize with Dak Prescott on a large scale. Like Dak, I have lost a loved one—my father in January 2019—and I understand how the aftermath feels. You feel hopeless, directionless. All five stages of grief come to hit you full-force. You feel like there is nothing left to live for. But while the loss of my father was gradual (he fought a twelve-week battle against a relapse of thymic cancer after fourteen years in remission), Dak’s was sudden. A one-day event. To not get the chance to say goodbye to a loved one is incredibly scarring for an individual, especially when the loss involves suicide.
And, as far as I’m concerned, Dak handled the traumatic loss of his brother amazingly. His ability to speak publicly about his feelings about his brother’s suicide and how people shouldn’t be ashamed of their mental wellness is praiseworthy. If anything, Dak Prescott has solidified himself as a class act in my eyes.
So, Mr. Bayless, I am not calling for your termination like many other people are. Instead, I ask that you spend some time learning about mental health, how it manifests in different people, and why it is nothing to be ashamed of. Depression does not make you a lesser person or a weaker leader. It is okay to not be okay, and it takes a massive amount of courage to display the feelings Dak did. While I’m a diehard Green Bay Packer fan, you can be sure I’m buying a Dak Prescott jersey now. Mental health matters.