Blue Jays' Roberto Osuna shows admirable courage speaking out on his anxiety

Big League Stew
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9907/" data-ylk="slk:Roberto Osuna">Roberto Osuna</a> opened up about his anxiety&nbsp;on Saturday morning. (Frank Gunn/CP)
Roberto Osuna opened up about his anxiety on Saturday morning. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Admitting to yourself that you can’t work because of anxiety is tough. Telling your boss that is tougher. Telling the whole world is something else entirely.

On Saturday morning, that’s what Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna did. He told reporters that he made himself unavailable to pitch on Friday because of anxiety and he isn’t sure whether he can pitch Saturday.

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This was a truly remarkable action on Osuna’s part. The culture of all high-level athletics emphasizes “mental toughness” to an extreme degree. This will be seen by some in the game – extraordinarily wrongly – as an admission of weakness. Osuna will find plenty of support, but behind closed doors some players may lose respect for him on account of this and he knows that.  It takes a rare 22-year-old to make a decision without worrying about losing face in the eyes of his peers.

He also opened the door for criticism in the public sphere. There has been an outpouring of support, but there have been early responses that suggest some people don’t understand – or care to understand the gravity of the issue. Some reactions have emphasized how much the Blue Jays need him as opposed to what he needs. It is true that the Blue Jays need him – he’s in the midst of a career-best season with a 2.48 ERA, 1.79 FIP, and 11.48 K/9 with 19 saves – but that’s hardly relevant here.

We don’t know about the precise severity of Osuna’s anxiety – nor is it responsible to speculate – but whatever the case may be it’s fair to say his well-being trumps any ninth-inning meltdowns.

By speaking out, Osuna willingly invited a great deal of scrutiny from his teammates, his opponents, and fans. Luckily, we live in an era when he can likely expect more support than criticism, and it’s hard to imagine this happening a decade ago. Even so, there will be plenty of people who feel like he isn’t tough enough or that he let down his team – whether they say it or not.

Anxiety can be utterly debilitating and many people suffer in silence, not even telling their best friends, let alone taking the time they need to heal. Perhaps Osuna’s situation – even if it winds up being a single day off – serves to inspire someone to admit to themselves or others that they need help or time.

Saturday’s events will undoubtedly make people look at Osuna differently, and they should because he showed some impressive maturity. Thinking more of him would be the only logical thing to do.

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