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Aaron Hicks and the importance of mental health

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After Daunte Wright was killed on Sunday, the outfielder asked to sit out of Monday’s contest.

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another unarmed black man killed by police in America. That’s basically how it went down for Daunte Wright on Sunday. After a traffic stop for an expired registration led to his death, the news made waves around the country once again — this time about 10 miles away from where Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd, another unarmed black man who was killed by police. Understandably, this news was hard to take for many, whether they knew Wright personally or not.

There’s a certain privilege to being able to try and justify Wright’s death. But whether or not he was complying, whether he had warrants, whatever he did on Sunday, none of that matters. What matters is that a young man should be alive today and I shouldn’t even know his name. He’s not and I do, and the best defense being thrown out there is that the officer thought her gun was a taser. The lack of accountability and how easily these things get brushed off are the reasons why so many people are tired and scared and why someone like Aaron Hicks is “hurting in a huge way.”

After news of Wright’s death spread, Hicks asked Aaron Boone if he could sit out of Monday night’s game against the Blue Jays and the skipper complied. This cannot have been an easy thing for Hicks to do, but ultimately, it was the right thing and I applaud him for that. We also found out that Giancarlo Stanton considered sitting out but ultimately chose to play. That’s fine, too.

Athletes are fierce competitors. They want to be in every game and they want to help their team win. Add dealing with the constant media circus — especially in cities like New York — and fan pressure in the Golden Age of Social Media, it’s no wonder why players hide injuries all the time and try and play through the pain. So when a player actually asks for the time off, it’s serious.

What was nice to see was the Yankees supporting their centerfielder when he needed the time:

“Obviously the situation is heartbreaking right now in Minneapolis,” Boone said before the game. “I think it’s hit Aaron particularly hard ... In a way, I felt like it was probably the responsible thing to take himself out, knowing that it was hard for him to be all-in mentally in what’s a high-stakes, difficult job to go out there and perform for the New York Yankees.”

Aaron Boone makes an excellent point here. For those who think that Hicks needs to be there for his team and feel as if he let them down, wouldn’t he actually be making the team worse simply by just going there and not focusing on the game? Imagine a ball is hit to him in center field, but his mind is distracted for a half-second and it lands just past his reach. Would Hicks be lauded for “playing through” what’s clearly a tough time for him? Absolutely not.

Monday’s batterymates, Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka, also came out and supported Hicks taking the day off. Both shared sentiments of not being able to personally experience what he’s feeling, but wanting to support him and be there for him — “Whatever he needs.”

Hicks definitely appreciated the gesture:

Unfortunately, not all fans can be as supportive. While obviously a good amount also echoed support of Hicks, some of the other reactions were predictable. There were those who shined light on what would happen if they asked their bosses for a day off to process this and let us know that they’d be in trouble or lose their jobs. To those folks I say, I’m sorry that you have such a crappy job and/or boss. Then, there were those who reacted by making jokes about Hicks struggling at the plate and how he should take more time off. To those folks: A man is dead. Your jokes are unnecessary.

Earlier this year, I spoke about Gary Sánchez’s interview with Marly Rivera and how fandoms can be toxic by nature. These reactions to Hicks taking time off and Stanton even potentially sitting are just another example of that. There is a very tired conversation about how fans use sports as an escape from their everyday lives, which is fine, but it can’t be at the expense of not allowing players to be human beings as well. There’s also the whole concept of keeping politics out of sports. I have some news on that front too: unarmed individuals getting unnecessarily murdered is not politics — it’s a crime wave. This has nothing to do with party or policy.

Just as we try to get through our lives and do our jobs to make ends meet, so are these athletes. Sure, their salaries make paying bills significantly easier than it is for me, but bills aren’t the problem point in the world. There are still other real-life struggles that they have to cope with as well, on top of the pressure of being in the public eye. Players like Hicks and Stanton are human beings too. Sure, their jobs involve entertaining us for a few hours a night so we can ignore those problems in our lives, but they deserve their breaks as well.

And before it comes up, this has nothing to do with being “soft” or needing to “man up.” That kind of toxic masculinity really has no place and simply adds to the pressure that people already face. At the end of the day, the mind is a part of your body. If sick days are allowed for stomachaches, fevers, broken limbs, and so on, then anyone should be able to take a day off to clear their mind too. Mental health is simply health.

The important part to remember is that no one besides Hicks himself gets to decide what’s best for his well-being. Only he can decide his way of getting through this ordeal. As fans of the team he plays for, he should receive nothing but support for this, regardless of how you feel about him as a player. If he needs a day, a week, even a year, he should take as long as it takes. As Cole and Higashioka said, “whatever he needs.”