CHICAGO (Aug. 3, 2022)As issues of mental health make headlines in sport and women's sports in particular the WNBA championship team Chicago Sky launched "The Net," (A Network of Mental Health Support in Sport), an initiative that makes mental health a priority for athletes. Created in partnership with Chicago agency OKRP, The Net is an interwoven array of resources designed to help athletes prioritize their mental health and provide a full-court press of support.
The Net debuts at the Chicago Sky's home game on Aug. 7 with a series of motivating videos from Sky players Azura Stevens, Rebekah Gardner and Ruthy Hebard. Their individual stories further come to life through a set of player trading cards featuring each player on the front in an action shot, while on the back is a list of tools to manage mental health such as journaling, mediation, therapy and more. The "Keep your Head in the Game" mantra is also highlighted in a T-shirt that will be worn by players and staff during warm-up; it will also be given to fans on Game Day through the support of sponsor Mesirow, the official mental health partner of the Sky.
"The Chicago Sky are honored to partner with organizations like Mesirow, OKRP, and City Year to raise awareness of mental health and make a sustainable impact in our community, sais Team President and CEO Adam Fox "Players shouldn't have to 'play through the pain,' and we are especially proud of our players: Azurá, Rebekah, and Ruthy for sharing their journeys to help the next generation of athletes be better prepared to cope with mental health challenges. This is a big step forward in destigmatizing this issue."
The opening game will also serve as a backdrop to show how mental health can be prioritized in sport. There will be a "moment of gratitude" led by mental health and wellness coach Dr. Janet Taylor, to give players and fans a chance to reflect on the positive moments of their lives. And, Sky Sports Psychologist Patrice Whitfield will sit near the team coaches and strength & conditioning staff to reinforce that taking care of your head is just as important as taking care of your body.
"For too long players have been seen as one-dimensional superstars whose athletic prowess is celebrated and debated," explained Stevens, a forward/center for the Sky. "But underneath the trash talk and 3-pointers, many of us struggle with the pressure to be perfect, to perform flawlessly and to do it all with a smile. We get injured and we face the mental challenges of getting better. Sharing these stories makes us human and helps people see how we cope with traumaand hopefully it helps others dealing with the same issues."
The Net represents an ongoing commitment from the Chicago Sky to serve as a model of an organization that uplifts the world of women athletes through an environment that normalizes mental health conversations, support, and solutions within the arena and beyond. A website, www.takeittothe.net, will provide additional links and support services and organizations including the NBA's website of Mental Health resources.
In addition to game-time actions, the team and its partners will use social and paid media to share powerful messages to break the stigma of mental health. The Aug. 7 game is just the tip-off, as the Sky will look to create a broad network of support and mental health resources for athletes of all ages and levels.
"Many of us at OKRP have firsthand experience of the devastation that mental health issues can bring," explained Betsy Ross, Head of Client Business at OKRP. "Being able to create something with the Sky that can further destigmatize mental health challenges in professional sports and elevate mental self-care right along with physical conditioning is so important. To use the power of communication for the betterment of all is really why we are all in this business."
The Chicago Sky is further supported by City Year, NAMI Chicago Chapter, and IDPH.