After focusing on youth sports and gender issues in sports the past two years, the NBC Sports Regional Networks' latest initiative will center on mental health.
The networks have partnered with Religion of Sports to develop multi-platform content. The initiative begins next month with a one-hour documentary that will air on the regional networks as well as other local NBC outlets. The project's November start coincides with Men's Health Awareness Month.
Religion of Sports is a media company founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan, and Gotham Chopra.
"Mental health and sports is becoming the zeitgeist of what people are talking about in sports. It has always been there," said Ted Griggs, the president and group leader for strategic production and programming for the regional networks. "When these big, strong, healthy athletes come forward and show they are struggling it helps people who are dealing with the same issues."
The "HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports" documentary will explore different mental health topics as well as showing how different athletes were able to get treatment. Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst suffered from panic attacks when he was a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league system, former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk had post-traumatic stress disorder for many years after a gruesome injury and Justise Winslow of the Miami Heat opens up about his experiences with depression.
Brandon Marshall, who played 13 seasons in the NFL and was one of the first professional athletes to come out and discuss mental illness, is the executive producer.
Malarchuk had his jugular vein severed during a 1989 game when the skate of an opposing player clipped his throat. He had PTSD, anxiety and depression for many years but was not diagnosed until a suicide attempt in 2008.
Malarchuk and his wife, Joanie, now speak across the country to various groups.
"Trauma affects all of us, but we go through different degrees of it," Malarchuk said. "I went 12 years trying to be a tough guy but there are many people who are suffering in silence."
Marshall announced in 2011 that he had borderline personality disorder, which slowly got other athletes to come out with their struggles, such as Michael Phelps and Kevin Love. He is starting to open performance centers that focus on mental and physical fitness.
Marshall said the discussions about mental health have evolved over the past eight years to where the issue is talked about openly.
"When we started in 2011 it was still a taboo topic. It has shifted dramatically since then to where it is almost like a badge of honor," he said. "The conversation is being had. Now it is about providing the proper resources."
NBC Sports Regionals will also have a digital series in November on mental health, with an episode being released daily. The seven regional channels will also combine to produce 38 to 40 segments related to local athletes.
"Distributing in this way allows us not to do a show one night and then forget about it. We can do something that is educational and continues the discussion," Griggs said.