• La Shawn Wilburn

Flag On The Field & The 12th Man: How Football Could Be The Answer To Beating Stigma

Flag on the Field 2.PNG

If you’re a football fan and you’re watching the game and that “guy” in the stripes runs out onto the field and slams that little yellow flag down against your team there is an overwhelming sense of tension as you wait to see what the call, and ultimately the penalty will be. Your team could be yards from pushing into the end zone for the touchdown needed to win the game with 6 seconds on the clock. On the edge of your seat, forbidding anyone to speak as you wait for the infamous reach for the “mic” button on the hip accompanied by matching hand movements signifying your teams’ fate…here it comes… “offsides, number 72 , 5 yard penalty, 3rd down…”. WHAAT THA?!?! *insert image of ripping hair out of head here*

As the football season comes to an end with Super Bowl XLIX – 2015 behind us and Mondays are just Mondays, Thursdays go into hibernation, and Sunday’s are filled with family outings followed by lazy days in the hammock; there will be flags on the field still. The virtual play clock never stops. Penalties will be called and yardage may or may not increase. In steps the “TWELFTH MAN”!!!

The Twelfth (12th) Man will continue to carry the torch until next season. Jersey sales for the Patriots will sky rocket. Key players will see an increase in fans and everyone will know who Malcom Butler is. *Sorry not sorry Seahawk fans, you had #BeastMode who calls a pass play at that with that field position? *

The 12th man will be heard in the office, during meetings, in the market, during checkout, at church, before service and at home as they peruse the DVR looking for the “football fix” to hold them over until cleats are strapped up and helmets collide on the field in preseason orgasmic clamour again. It’s been said that North American football fans are some of the most loyal and dedicated fans there are. Not convinced? Google “Green Bay Football fans” and watch the madness that is called “CheeseHeads”.

“One theory of sports fandom stresses that the high level of identification with the team has roots in our ancient history. When we belonged to various tribes, the individuals who were the warriors of the tribe were a part of us, were related to us. The survival of the tribe often depended upon their success in defending us. Now instead of wearing warpaint and carrying spears, our "warriors" are wearing helmets and shoulder pads and carrying a football. But the feeling for us fans is still that they are out on the field "fighting" for us, and that we are cheering them on.” - Anita Sanz, Clinical Psychologist (“The sports psychology of NFL fans and how they can get over the big losses” SportingNews.com)

That’s it right? Identify with the “team”! So the only thing we have to do is get key players in the mental health community to play and win and the 12th man will show up in war paint to cheer us on? Sounds easy enough. Now to convince the 12th man we are a real team. Team Breast Cancer has succeeded surely Team Mental Health can. When someone is diagnosed with breast cancer there are "Run 4 The Cure" fundraisers, Football teams "accessorize" with the infamous pink socks cleats, hand towels, and some even go so far as to wear pink cleats. Co-workers pass cards around the office to sign as the secretary arranges to have flowers delivered. This empathy is not only extended to co-workers but to their family members as well. "Did you hear about Marcus' wife? Yes he's taking some time off to be with her after the surgery. Has anyone sent flowers yet? A group of us are stopping by and dropping off food for the children, I think her mothers with them." That scenario can go on and on. That scenario is lived out every day some where around the country. According to U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, "About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime." - breastcancer.org

What do you mean mental illness is not a “real illness”? What exactly do you mean when you say, “that’s “crazy”? Crazy is a bad word in the mental health community, it’s what keeps stigmas alive. It’ what keeps thousands of people from seeking medical attention or help and eventually leads to suicide for many suffering in silence. Would you say to a breast cancer survivor, “…show me proof. You don’t look sick”. Of course not. The Breast Cancers 12th man would be on your worse than the “BeyHive

"Every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia...The data, compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), also indicate that approximately 9.3 million adults, or about 4 percent of those Americans ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental illness"..." - News Week Article "Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Suffer From Mental Illness Each Year"

To break it down in corn bread language as my mother would say, if you were to get on an elevator with 3 other people chances are one of you have experienced a mental health challenge or are experiencing one. Now you would think with stats like that everyone would be concerned right? Stigmas are what keep people from speaking up about having a mental illness. "Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people. Although research has gone far to understand the impact of the disease, it has only recently begun to explain stigma in mental illness. Much work yet needs to be done to fully understand the breadth and scope of prejudice against people with mental illness." - World Psychiatry, "Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness"

With this bit of information the task seems easy. The best way to raise awareness and increase empathy and compassion for the Mental Health community is to appeal to the 12th man. Our 12th man must identify with our community. That is the first goal. We must show how “relatable” we are. Did you know Alzheimers was mental illness? What about Depression? PTSD? Post Partum Depression? Yes it's a mental illness. We all know someone who has experienced post partum depression. Has anyone you know ever been robbed at gunpoint? What about an auto accident? PTSD can result from both of those intances. " Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a trauma. A trauma is a shocking and scary event that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or think that you have no control over what is happening... Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives...About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives..." US Department of Vetran Affairs - "How Common is PTSD?"

Consider the amount of baby boomers now caring for parents with Alzheimer's. "An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease in 2014, including approximately 200,000 individuals younger than age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer's.Almost two-thirds of American seniors living with Alzheimer's are women. Of the 5 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's in the United States, 3.2 million are women and 1.8 million are men." Alz.org - "Latest Facts and Figures"

What about Autism? "About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)"

What about Touretts Syndrome? "It is not known exactly how many people have Tourette Syndrome (TS). A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study has found that 1 of every 360 children 6 through 17 years of age and living in the United States have been diagnosed with TS based on parent report; this represents about 138,000 children. Other studies using different methods have estimated the rate of TS at 1 per 162 children." Center for Disease Control and prevention - "Data and Statistics"

Some of the most misunderstood mental illnesses such as, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders such as Anorexia & Bulimia, Self Harm, Disassociation Identity Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder these are illnesses those who suffer from them didn't choose, yet people everyday are discrimiated against because of them. Remember 1 in 4 persons are battling a mental illness. "A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life...Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan." NAMI - "What is Mental Illness?"

With statistics that high it is very likely you or someone you know are experiencing a mental illness.

What As I sat there kicking around ideas in my head, along with the other negative thoughts like this won’t work, people will never “think outside the box”. (I'm a diagnosed anxiety and depression survivor) It hit me like a Defensive Back in the redzone! By Georgetown Hoyas I’ve got it!!! *Insert Drumroll here*

A campaign called #WhereIsTheTwelfthMan Brilliant right? Yes. Yes it is. Huh? Oh don’t worry about that other stuff it just complicates things. Football is going to help us fight stigma and raise awareness. Flags on the field happen when someone is using mental illness terms to describe everyday situations like, "You're so OCD...You're such a weirdo...he acts like a crazy derranged person..." When you see "violations" such as those use #GFlagOnTheField for a green flag on the offender for use of words that stigmatize persons battling mental illness.

Don’ your face paint, and order your jerseys your presence is required. In the coming days, weeks, and months, you will get further instructions on how to help raise awareness for mental health. Look for and use the #WhereIsTheTwelfthMan hash tag to help raise awareness for the fight for mental illness & mental health! Our intent is to #EducateStigma & #EndStigma We hope you are as excited as we are…

Now we need a really cool name and a mascot right? #AnchorLife is the team and an #Anchor is the mascot. What is an Anchor? Merriam Webster defines it as:


noun, often attributive \ˈaŋ-kər\

: a heavy device that is attached to a boat or ship by a rope or chain and that is thrown into the water to hold the boat or ship in place

: a person or thing that provides strength and support

Anchoring and providing support while navigating the troubled waters of mental illness & creating awareness is what our team does. Show up for the "Mental Health events". Discuss mental health in your home, workplace, places of worhip, and the gym. If you find out someone is battling a mental illness lend your support. Give a hug. Share some good energy. Stay tuned for ways to be an active Anchor warrior in the battle against stigma. So many lives will be enhanced. So many will be saved. We hope to see you in the game!

#SuperBowl #MalcomButler #Football #Patriots #Seahawks #Stigma #MentalHealth #MentalIllness #AnchorLife #Anchor #FlagOnTheField #GFlagOnTheField #TheTwelfthMan #WhereIsTheTwelfthMan #Fans #BreastCancer #BreastCancerAwareness

14 views0 comments