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O’Neil: Bayless couldn’t be more wrong about Prescott and depression

Dak Prescott was the center of attention due to what Skip Bayless said about his depression. (Getty)

I’ve often wondered whether Skip Bayless actually believes the things that come out of his mouth. Carnival barkers don’t swear an oath to be truthful, and sports shouters aren’t to be taken at face value.

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I have no doubt that Bayless believes exactly what he said on Thursday when he criticized Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for disclosing the depression he experienced.

“I don’t have sympathy for him going public with, ‘I got depressed,’” Bayless said on FOX Sports’ Undisputed.

It quickly became the most universally reviled sports opinion in history, which is really saying something because we currently occupy a universe that is chock full of sports opinions that are just waiting to be reviled. And as everyone has lined up to explain all the faults of both Bayless’ opinion (of which there are many) and his career (of which there are even more), people have failed to grasp just what was going on here.

This wasn’t Bayless’ usual trolling in which he earnestly defends an indefensible opinion like saying LeBron James is overrated. He wasn’t baiting someone into a fight like he did with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. Nope. Skip was speaking from the heart and telling us how he feels you should handle an issue with emotional heft.

“If you reveal publicly any little weakness,” Bayless said, “it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot. And it definitely can encourage others on the other side to come after you. You throw an interception, you’re going to hear, ‘Are you depressed No. 4?’ That sort of thing. You get sacked, ‘How did that feel? You getting down about it?’

“You just can’t go public with it in my humble opinion.”

Pride. That’s what Bayless is talking about here. A veneer of toughness that must be maintained at all times. Bayless wasn’t saying that Prescott couldn’t – or shouldn’t – feel this way. He wasn’t even saying that Prescott shouldn’t discuss his feelings with a doctor or with friends. What Bayless spelled out very explicitly was that Prescott should not have revealed this publicly because it would undermine the confidence others would have in him.

He’s wrong about this of course, on multiple levels. From a practical standpoint, burying your vulnerabilities and your fears doesn’t make you a better leader. It makes you less relatable and more likely to be sniffed out as a fraud. Real connection – the kind that inspires actual sacrifice and generosity from others – is built on sharing your humanity, not shunning it. Admitting weakness is a much better way of getting others to share their strength.

The other way that Bayless is wrong is more personal and also more dangerous. Encouraging silence about depression or any other mental-health issue has the long-term effect of preventing those issues from being identified, addressed and treated. It’s like ordering a person with a broken leg not to limp.

And while Bayless wasn’t discouraging Prescott from talking about those issues in private, the fact that he criticized him for doing it publicly only reinforces the feelings of shame that some experience. That’s not just sad, it’s potentially tragic, because a mental-health issue like depression is not a stain that should be hidden or a flaw that you need to conceal. It’s a problem that not only can be addressed, but needs to be addressed, and the first step in doing that is talking about it.

I first began experiencing depression in college, though I wasn’t formally diagnosed until my 30s. I used to have depressive episodes a couple of times a year with an inability to sleep normally and a crushing reluctance to perform even the most basic tasks of cleaning. I have seen multiple therapists over the years. I started taking the antidepressant Celexa in 2008, 40 mg per day. I added 150 mg of Wellbutrin two years ago. Treatment has helped me be a happier, more stable person. Medication has worked for me. My life is significantly better now than it was before I understood what depression was or what it meant to have it.

I’m not proud of this, but I’m not embarrassed either. It’s the reality of who I am and what I have learned about myself and I don’t particularly care who or how many people know about it. The only reason that happened is because I started talking about it, which is why I think it’s worth it in this instance to give Bayless the attention he so clearly craves. Everyone should understand that this isn’t something stupid he said to gain attention. It’s something stupid he said because he actually believes that’s how you deal with a mental-health issue.

“You just fight,” Bayless said. “You’ve got to fight back. You can’t give in to the depression. You try to rise above it because it’s just how you’re built. It’s how I’m built.”

Well, that’s too bad because that approach keeps too many people from reaching out for the help that they need and for the treatment they could benefit from. Because the best way to fight depression isn’t to hide it, but to do exactly what Prescott did: Talk about it.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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