MLB And U.S. Mayors Play Ball For Youth Mental Health Awareness

The morning after cheering on the hometown Texas Rangers in the 2023 World Series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Globe Life Field, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson sought some support from the big leagues during a special event featuring nearly 200 local youth.

The event, held at the Texas Rangers Youth Baseball Academy in Dallas, was part of the PLAY BALL initiative sponsored by Major League Baseball and the United States Conference of Mayors. It aimed at highlighting the role of sports in promoting mental health awareness.

This was the first in a series of similar PLAY BALL events scheduled to take place in cities around the country. Participants received specially-designed plastic bracelets that feature the Crisis Text Line number. MLB and all of the clubs throughout the league have stepped up to offer free, confidential mental health and crisis support in English and Spanish to any young fans, parents, and others engaged with the game. By texting “MLB” to 741741, people can connect with volunteer crisis counselors at Crisis Text Line who are available 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week to anyone in need of support for managing anxiety, depression, grief, or self-harm.

PLAY BALL was launched by MLB and the Conference of Mayors in 2015. It centers on engaging and encouraging youth participation in baseball and softball for the long-run by offering programs and activities that make the sport accessible. The real purpose, though, is to help children develop lifestyle habits that make themselves, their families and friends, and their communities healthier.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has hailed the PLAY BALL initiative as one of the best decisions he’s made since taking office eight years ago. That recognition speaks to the value that the league places on contributing in positive ways to its communities. Mental health, in particular, has taken center stage in “MLB Together,” a platform that underscores the league’s role in acts of social responsibility.

Mayors throughout the U.S. have been embracing MLB’s mental wellness initiatives. Their support goes beyond the cache of connecting with a popular major professional sports league, its teams, and players. The Conference of Mayors has been consistently prioritizing mental health and wellness for several years. And the organization’s current president, Reno, Nevada Mayor Hillary Schieve, has focused the effort even more by making mental health programs a central theme of her term.

Schieve has been vocal in sharing personal, familial, and professional experiences about the mental health crisis afflicting the American public. Schieve and her mayoral colleagues regard the decades-long mental health crisis—which affects people of every age group, from youth to elderly—and the challenges of accessing effective care as “the No. 1 crisis in America.”

A recent Conference of Mayors survey conducted in 117 cities across the country showed that 97% of cities reported an increasing number of requests for mental health services over the past two years and 82% have created new programs or increased funding for existing ones. Yet, 88% of cities do not have what is generally-considered “adequate” access to the mental health resources needed to address the crisis.

Mayor Ross and Mayor Johnson didn’t need those kinds of statistics to motivate them to turn out for the PLAY BALL event. Mayors have long been recognizing the values and platform that sports can provide for residents to develop healthy physical, social, and emotional habits that lead to improving mental health for people and community.

Around the event this past weekend, Ross said, “PLAY BALL is a remarkable opportunity for youth from across Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington to join in on the excitement of the World Series being played in their backyard. Mental health is just as important as physical health. I’m grateful for MLB and the Rangers working to raise awareness about the confidential mental health and crisis support available to our youth, no matter what challenges they face. We are better when we come together to show kindness and support.”

“Mayors understand the connection between sports and wellbeing for America’s youth,” Johnson said. Bringing mental health awareness to participants in PLAY BALL makes sense, he added, because it is “baseball’s signature youth engagement initiative. This program is one of the driving forces behind growing the games we love in hundreds of cities around the country.”

The PLAY BALL initiative shows how cities and towns that truly understand the transformative power of sports to engage people throughout their communities can help address an enormous public health challenge. Fighting for mental health is a powerful pitch for America’s mayors.

Arthur L. Caplan contributed to this report.

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