As millions continue to struggle mentally and emotionally with the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, new Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons decided it was time to tell his story.
Simmons revealed on Tuesday that he decided to opt out of the final week of the Angels' season last September because of depression and even thoughts of suicide, which had haunted him since he was young.
"It was tough for me mentally to where the thought of suicide crossed my mind," Simmons wrote to the Southern California News Group. "It was something I vowed a long time ago I would never consider again. I was fortunate to talk to a therapist, which helped me let go of those thoughts. At the end when a lot of people were still going through what most would think of as tough times, the idea of finishing the season in a bubble was too much for me to handle."
Simmons wrote that the recent thoughts of suicide never became actions, and he chose not to elaborate on how those feelings manifested when he was younger.
"Most people carry scars that others can't see or understand," he wrote.
Simmons expressed his feelings in a series of Twitter direct messages, saying he was more comfortable writing his story than verbalizing it because "it is still difficult to articulate certain things or be open."
On Sunday, the Twins held an introductory Zoom call with Simmons, who had finalized a one-year, $10.5-million deal. During that session, which was the first time Simmons had spoken to the media since the end of the Angels' season, he declined to elaborate on why he decided to opt out.
Two days later, Simmons reached out to a reporter and said he felt it was time to tell the story.
"Now seeing how more and more people are struggling with depression, anxiety and suicide I felt it might be time to share a little piece of my story," he wrote. "I was afraid of people judging and people twisting my story."
Simmons becomes the latest high-profile pro athlete to go public with his struggles with depression, joining a list that includes the Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott, the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love and swimmer Michael Phelps.
On Tuesday, ESPN published a story in which San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson detailed how he attempted to commit suicide in April.
"There's a lot of people out there that are going through stressful times," Simmons wrote. "For different types of reasons. Which brings a lot of fear or anxiety. And I know there's the fear of seeking help/assistance because of the perception of people thinking there's something wrong with you, but I think in reality there are way more people than you might think that are going tough stressful stuff, which can come in different ways: fear, loss, trauma, problems with loved ones. You're not alone. You don't have to keep everything bottled up. Find someone that can help you express your emotions freely and that can assist you with it."
The more people like Simmons who tell their stories, the more others can find help, according to Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, the director of the psychotherapy program at the University of British Columbia."We hold athletes high up on a pedestal," Ogrodniczuk said. "Rightly or wrongly, they are seen as role models for many people in society and they have a public platform that many others don't. What they do, what they say can have a large effect on other people in general."When an athlete says 'I'm struggling with depression and it affects my life,' the right thing to do, the courageous thing, is to share. Let people know if you are struggling and need a hand."Ogrodniczuk started Heads Up Guys, an organization that raises awareness and provides support for men dealing with depression.
Simmons certainly didn't set out to be a role model in any sort of campaign. A 31-year-old native of Curaçao, Simmons has played nine years in the big leagues, earning a name for himself by winning four Gold Gloves and gaining a reputation as one of the best defensive shortstops in history.
His fifth season with the Angels, in 2020, had not been like any of the others. Players were sequestered in their hotels on the road, and they were tested constantly at the ballpark for COVID-19, all in an effort to get through the shortened 60-game season without an outbreak of the virus.
All players had the choice to opt out at any point if they were uncomfortable, for any reason. High-profile players like Dodgers pitcher David Price, New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman and Giants catcher Buster Posey all decided to opt out before the season began.
Simmons played. Throughout the season, though, he could not take his mind off what was going on in the world outside of baseball's bubble.
"First time was driving through Oakland and seeing some of the shops and restaurants trying to stay open with all the homeless people camping outside," he said. "That's when it really hit me."
Simmons said he began talking to a therapist to help him work through his feelings, but eventually, they proved to be too much.
On Sept. 22, the Angels announced that Simmons had opted out of the final five games of the regular season. Simmons released a statement saying only that he decided it was the best decision for him and his family. The Angels provided little other information, and mostly expressed surprise at his decision.
The news came just as the Angels were entering a bubble for the final week of the regular season. Because they were mathematically alive for the postseason, the Angels and all the other potential postseason teams were subjected to a higher level of quarantine during the final week of the regular season. The idea was to reduce the risk of the virus interfering with the postseason.
As it turns out, that was the final straw for Simmons.
"I was really saddened by how much I was hearing about the death toll, and seeing how smaller businesses were going out of business and I was a little depressed at how the effects of all the new rules and fears were gonna affect people's livelihoods and how disconnected people were becoming," he wrote.
Simmons added: "There's a lot more that happened but I don't think my whole life should be put on for everyone to judge. I wasn't more open with this because I don't like the idea of having to explain every detail of my life."
Simmons wrote that he changed his mind as he came to realize that he could help others who had been struggling mentally or emotionally.
"I was afraid of people judging and people twisting my story," he said. "Some people might not like that I put this out there and some might bring their perspective and judgment to what is personal and good for my overall health. I'm ok sharing this with you because I know NOW that people's perspective and judgment has more to do with them than me."