Mar 23, 2022Liked by Ethan Strauss

This is a wonderful post and expresses something that has bothered me for a while but haven't been able to put into words why. I find that some of my friends loudly broadcast their depression on social media as if it's a badge of honor, not realizing that the thing that you should be proud of is finding a way to not be depressed. It's like an alcoholic constantly garnering pity for being an alcoholic but still drinking every night.

Yes, I realize these things are hard - I suffered from depression in college, both my parents were alcoholics before dying of alcohol related deaths - but there's no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Talking about your depression is pointless unless it leads to you not being depressed, yet it seems like people don't see that forest for the trees. They instinctually prefer to get attention for being depressed over the feeling of happiness. At some point you need to get on with your life and find better ways of coping because it's a shitty way to spend your time.

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Mar 23, 2022·edited Mar 23, 2022

Brilliant article. I've suffered from depression my whole life, and I've had major issues with avoidance and playing the victim.

But something has happened in the last few years. Seeing this embrace of victimhood in mainstream liberal culture, combined with the incredibly mean, prosecutor-style nature of Social Justice Politics... it has me thinking "Oh God, that's what I used to look like? Well fuck that. I want outta here."

So I'm doing my best to limit my social media consumption because it's a huge driver of this stuff. I feel for the youngest generation who grew up with this stuff and feel like they can't escape.

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The media coverage of Simone Biles at the Olympics made me feel like I was taking crazy pills. Maybe 20 years ago she would've received harsh criticism for choosing not to compete, fearing for her safety. And maybe it's good that we're well past that, especially in a sport like gymnastics that's been rife with both abuse and exploitation. But the lavish praise heaped upon her, calling her a "success" simply for the act of choosing not to compete has a real Emperor's New Clothes vibe going on. And I feel like the chill over being able to say what is obviously true has irreparably damaged the Olympics as a broadcast spectacle in the US.

Having the Winter Olympics in Beijing didn't help the ratings, but maybe lots of people didn't watch because they wanted to see their fellow countrymen/women compete, not opt out.

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Mar 23, 2022·edited Mar 23, 2022Liked by Ethan Strauss

Glad this ended up being about more than just the athletes. Some stray thoughts:

1) The athlete bits, in particular, the traits we celebrated in them sort of connect to this piece that was making the rounds recently.


2) This quote really struck a note with me:

>Osaka appears in search of a subversion the modern system won’t allow because it embraces performative subversion. In this way, the powers that be have stolen something from the young, making rebellion on major issues a nearly impossible act. The old, terrified of looking out of step, merely validate protests, depriving the youth of the meaning derived from defiance.

I've dealt with the violent campus politics of universities in the developing world (back when it was still expensive to be digitally ever-connected there) and later moved to the US to observe the performative drivel and self-congratulatory #hashtag sloganeering that passes for campus politics here. This quote captures the contrast quite well.

Social media platforms are not just "narcissism traps" but also effectively lobotomizing people with informational/content over-stimulation. There's always some fleeting trend to escape from reality. Caught myself in the same pattern recently when it struck me that there's a war going on and I barely understood it or its potential consequences. Huxleyan dystopia writ large. Martin Gurri (ex-CIA analyst), if I recall correctly, has spoken in similar terms of attempts to de-politicize the polity.

Haven't got round to reading other comments, so apologies if I'm repeating someone else.

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Mar 23, 2022Liked by Ethan Strauss

This is excellent. Thank you, and please enjoy the dopamine hit.

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I think social media is a factor, but the driver of unhappiness is the prevalent attitude of You Will Be Made to Care. About racism or CRT or sexism or Ukraine or Afghani refugees or Central American refugees...or whatever. People feel obligated to care, and at times view most of life, through these lenses. And these things 1) are not fun and 2) cannot be fixed by you at all

People need to care about things. But people tend to be happier when those things are 1) enjoyable and/or 2) can be impacted by their actions. For example when I was a young adult I cared about: sports, hanging out with my friends, dating, and working put. I had political opinions but they were just something that were a minor part of my life, like my taste in books or food or clothes.

As a Real Adult, I care about different things- family, job,, golf etc. Less fun, but things I have some control over.

Tldr- if everything has a political lens. If everything is a cause. People will not be happy.

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Great piece. I've been thinking about a lot of these topics lately from the perspective of schools and parenting. A lot of causes meant to protect people may be doing more harm than good. My gut tells me the "anti-bullying" campaign is ineffective at best and may simply promote fragility, entitlement, and a host of other issues. (It might be a crude analogy, but) There's some simplicity in recognizing that you build physical muscle by exercising it, which, in the case of weightlifting, is the process of repairing small tears from the abuse you just subjected your body to. Over time, the same action causes less and less abuse, because your body can handle it. And of course, in exercise or weightlifting, you can overdo it and cause serious, irrecoverable damage. I wonder if mentally there is an analog. If you are subject to challenging social circumstances, you can learn how to recover and become stronger. If everyone is on the lookout to protect people from mental anguish, how can anyone develop coping strategies to persevere or at least, survive future events?

As an aside, Simon Biles has already made it. Same with Osaka. What happens to the millions of regular job 20-year-olds who decide to stop doing their jobs because that's what's best for their mental health? Biles and Osaka are entitled to be high maintenance because they're world class athletes that have proven themselves and are currently very marketable. I don't know that the average person doing the same thing would find much success or even a soft landing spot. It's fine to "prioritize your mental health" and take steps to not get burned out. But imagine some young up-and-comer just not showing up for a big presentation they were supposed to give for a client. What manager is going to trust that person in the future? If you're unreliable, it doesn't really matter why that is.

Finally, as a parent, I worry that I don't even have a plan for how to find the right balance here between comfort and stress. Eddie Rickenbacker grew up in abject poverty and there's a story that his father beat him when he asked a question about the finality of death (as a young child). His father apparently justified this by shouting that it was inappropriate for children to have thoughts like that. (yikes!) Obviously by today's standards his father was a monster but when I read about Eddie's life, his recoveries from multiple plane crashes, surviving in a raft at sea for a month, etc - it made me curious whether his tough upbringing was part of an early forging and tempering which in turn made him so resilient. (Or maybe all these legends come shoehorned with origin stories of rising from humble or difficult beginnings and there's really no generalizable pattern here.)

As much as I hate to admit it, I'm a helicopter parent, and I work very hard to try to bring happiness and comfort to my children. I don't have a strategy for how to exercise their mental health such that they build up resilience. I also know that any negative feedback, be it constructive criticism, bullying, or otherwise, always has the potential to be internalized for motivation or discouragement. As a parent, coach, or team lead, obviously your goal is maximum effectiveness. Some people are going to respond like MJ: "and I took that personally...", and some people are going to self implode.

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Osaka is a total headcase. Suck it up you spoiled brat.

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What strikes me about Osaka is just how appalled my therapists over the years would be if I reacted to dysthymia like that. There's nothing wrong with being hyper-sensitive - I AM hypersensitive! - but every mental health professional worth their weight in dogshit endlessly reminds me when I am overreacting or when I just need to suck it up.

I don't want to make this a performance/participation trophy thing but I do think to some extent the problem is simply how BIG athletes are now. If you're Kyler Murray or Naomi Osaka you legitimately have no idea how to lose. they win. That's what they do. That's what everyone expects you to do. So when they loses they feel like something they were promised- something that rightfully belongs to them. The "you suck" doesn't hurt because it's particularly cutting but because for the first time in their lives they actually DO suck relative to their competition. A reminder that all the guarantees by everyone in life that they were unbeatable were mere lies.

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I need to preface my critique by saying that I enjoy your writing and that it is indeed thought-provoking. But this piece falls flat for me in a few ways.

Firstly, you allude to it, but this is a wee bit rich coming from you. The first time we ever interracted on one of your ESPN chats many moons ago, I asked you if you actively tried to be a contrarian or if you really just saw things from a different perspective from the mainstream. Your answer touched on being an only child and how that affected how you saw the world. Now here you are not just with your own website, but your entire deal is your individuality and how your perspective is unique from prestige media which is why you had to free yourself of its shackles, yadda yadda. None of that is bad, by the way. But it does seem a mite contradictory to scold athletes from being so self-focused when you've done the same (quite well!).

I think you're missing a key piece of context when it comes to athletes prioritizing their mental health. They are going against the grain of generations upon generations of "toughing it out," quite often to their significant detriment. Why do you think Michael Phelps cheered Biles so loudly? Because he toughed it out and was suicidally miserable. Sports, competition, adversity -- they're all wonderful. But the culture of machismo that encourages people to hurt themselves for other peoples' glory? Feh.

We all know that star entertainers and athletes have huge egos -- that's not new. Self involved athletes in individual sports like tennis and golf strike me as more the rule than the exception. I think the much more interesting critique and case studies are with social media. You raise a great point -- Silver knows that social media is making his product miserable and yet is leaning into it. Why?

I never looked, but was once told by a smart friend that you can draw a pretty straight line between the start of the opioid epidemic and the release of the iPhone. Maybe old people are happier because they haven't had to grow up on instagram.

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I think a lot of younger people are going to be stuck in a dark place for a while. Having most of your interpersonal connections being primarily digital, working from home all the time, etc., all makes it very difficult to really pour yourself into the consideration of others (as Ethan noted with the Klosterman reference). I keep seeing teens and 20-somethings posting on social media sites about their extreme anxiety and depression. The most common thread is loneliness. Yes, there are plenty of people who will suffer from these conditions regardless of their circumstance, but there is something I think we all recognize about regular connection with humans we care for that really helps fight that sadness away.

Maybe someday through advances in technology and human adaptation, we'll be able to happily exist in a world where most or all of our interaction is digital. But we aren't there today, yet we've been conditioning young people to think we are. Technology is amazing and can solve an endless number of problems. It cannot, yet at least, perfectly replace having a coffee with an old friend or playing tag with your kid.

As for the athletes? They suffer from being brought up on the same lies, that technology is the new way for us to connect. But they're also dealing with, as Ethan has pointed out many times, millions of strangers talking about them all the time.

The younger generations have a lot better standard of living compared to older ones. And that can lead to finding things to worry about that seem absurd to people who had to fear polio or Russian nukes (wait, what?). But the level of physical isolation that tons of younger people deal with (not just through the pandemic) is something that would be a massive struggle for any generation.

Yes, I realize people still get together in person. I realize most schools and jobs are in person. Spend time around any teenager or person in their early 20s and it's quite clear how much time they spend in the digital world, even if they are physically near others. I'm not faulting them as this is what our society has pushed toward pretty collectively. But I am saying people aren't conditioned to be happy while living that way.

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Another home run. Just haven't been missing recently, Ethan. I've noticed this trend of the unhappy athlete, as well, but haven't been able to quite pinpoint exactly what it is. You just did. Keep it up

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Holy shit, Ethan. Thanks for taking all the loose crumbs of semi-thought that've been skittering around my brain for months (years?) and turning them into something. Reading this was better than going to the fucking doctor.

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Another great article. The moments I spend with my 3 and 5 year old boys l, where I am truly present and focused on them and what they want is pure bliss.

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So this got me thinking of a similar thought I had about athletes being so thin skinned today vs in the past, and the player that got me thinking was Russell Westbrook. After his most recent surly response to a legit question to the media (his childish response is he has no "vision" of anything, which was not the dunk he thought it was it is an indictment of his game, oh so that's why he does horribly idiotic things to end games) I happened to catch I Hate Christian Laetner on ESPN.

Christian was before my time, I was annoyed with him because he ruined the Dream Team but I never had an opinion about him, but it wasn't until watching that doc that I realized he was actually hated, and talk about hate! That's the kind of hate that you can't help but respect, he had a whole crowd of LSU fans chanting homophobic slurs at him and he didn't let it bother him, in a time when being gay wasn't like it is now. Every athlete, like Russ, or Naomi should watch that and realize they have it light.

Lastly why didn't you bring up Happy Gilmore? It used to be a lesson you had to learn, if some fan heckles you the reaction isn't to punch Bob Barker, it's to stay calm as Happy learns and win one for Grandma... which plays into your point that the best way to not be so sensitive is to have someone else in your life your playing for, like your grandma.

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Great piece. I'd like to see a real comparison between two (it seems to me) reasonably similar stories: Simone Biles and Makaela Shiffrin. I think the key difference here is that Biles proclaimed herself in physical danger, while Shiffrin proclaimed herself feeling great and skiing well, even though she had a terrible Olympics. But both play dangerous sports. Both were marketed as faces of the Olympics. Biles did her thing. Shiffrin was the opposite--she was clearly upset by the results, but she picked herself up, did the press conferences, owned it, and kept trying. I think, honestly, the media/NBC did not know what to do with this. Because it flies in the face of the Biles/Osaka driven narrative. It's the more traditional narrative of resilience and perseverance even in the face of (god forbid we should say it) choking. (Query the degree to which there is a gendered element here as well. This is different from playing through mental-health challenges or even not coming to work. Both Biles and Shiffrin just failed. To be clear, this is fine. I hate the narrative of the choking athlete--you win some, you lose some. Much better that the narrative be about resilience and a comeback than the shame of failure. But NBC was legit flummoxed about what to do with Shiffrin, because Shiffrin refused to jump in on the Biles narrative. There are lots of differences between the two stories and the two sports (I don't know anything about skiing (though perhaps the Olympics are, as in tennis/golf/soccer etc. just not the main event), but gymnastics is a clear shit show in ways far beyond the sport itself. I do think the media point is fascinating.

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