When Oakland Raiders starting center Barret Robbins was suspended for the Super Bowl and sent home early after missing mandatory team meetings in the days leading up to the event, many teammates, mediots and fans immediately jumped to conclusions about the Pro Bowler’s intentions and team commitment.

But Robbins, who was allegedly seen in nearby Tijuana the day before the game drinking in a bar while mumbling to himself and crying incessantly, was not just another reckless player caught up in the wild atmosphere of Super Bowl weekend.

Days after the fiasco took place, it was discovered that Robbins had in fact stopped taking his prescription medication for depression, and had to be admitted to a San Diego area hospital for emergency treatment as a result.

In a time of great uncertainty for Robbins and his family, the 29-year-old’s teammates could not have been colder or less compassionate. Oakland guard Frank Middleton claimed he would, “not be interested in playing with [Robbins] again,” while another offensive line-mate, Mo Collins, was exceedingly harsh in his criticism of Robbins, as well.

In despicable displays of disloyalty to a fallen brother, players made their remarks based solely on rumors floating around the newspapers and Internet, and did not bother to contact Robbins to check up on his condition.

As Robbins’ mysterious story continues to unfold, one wonders what caused this 6-foot-3, 280-pound behemoth to crumble before the football world’s searing eyes.

Stress is a problem that often precipitates mental breakdowns and other related episodes. And with the glitz and glamour of a Super Bowl appearance comes intense pressure from teammates, coaches, agents, family, friends and fans all relying on a single man to be hero for a day. Extreme expectations can cause even the strongest individuals to fall victim to psychological collapse.

According to the Office of the Surgeon General, “almost 20 percent of the U.S. population are affected by mental disorders in a given year.” So, it would be reasonable to expect that a similar percentage of athletes could be impacted as well.

Sports stars are just as susceptible to mental disorders as people in other professions and walks of life. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, phobias and substance abuse are hurdles that many pro athletes struggle with on a daily basis.

Because professional athletes are viewed as such durable figures, often times fans do not wish to acknowledge their flaws and imperfections. Yet it is imperative for people to understand that bipolar disorder is just as serious for sports stars as a torn ACL.

Robbins’ case was not the first time that a mental breakdown has gotten the better of a star-caliber athlete playing on the highest stage, causing them to lose control under the spotlight.

Former California Angels relief pitcher Donnie Moore will be forever linked with surrendering a game-tying homerun to Dave Henderson of the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. The Angels would go on to lose the game and eventually the series to Oakland in seven games. Moore was undoubtedly affected by the event, and less than three years after the ill-fated split-fingered fastball left his right hand, Moore took his own life.While one pitch was likely not the lone factor that drove Moore to suicide, the tragic path he took can certainly be traced back to a troubling medical history that included chronic battles with depression and substance abuse.

The sports world is full of trite and hackneyed debates that fill the sports radio airwaves and Internet chat rooms with meaningless drivel. One of the most common is the debate about athletes as role models. We expect too much from star players, insisting they be model citizens at all times, then salivating with disappointment when they let us down.

In this case Robbins is not a disappointment at all. To the contrary, he is an All-Pro athlete who challenges all of us to better understand the issue of mental disorders and their ramifications.

Now the burden falls on Robbins’ teammates to set an example and help their friend cope with a very serious condition. They should and must offer him compassion and understanding to help him recover from this most recent occurrence of his disorder.

Robbins will need this support as he works towards recovery and a return to the field. He must also fight off the stigma associated with having a mental disorder and to combat those who would ignorantly challenge his right to return to work.

Oakland lost the “Big One” on Sunday, and some blame Robbins. But the Raider family has a chance to win an even bigger contest if it can come to the aid of a brother in need. In the end, that is what team is really all about.

Gerton can be reached at mgerton@campustimes.org.

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