For SDSU’s Matt Bradley, it’s bigger than basketball

Matt Bradley used his platform at SDSU to raise awareness for the importance of mental health. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Matt Bradley carried the Aztecs in the National Semifinal. He finished with 21 points and tied for the team lead with six rebounds. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Mental health in sports often gets overlooked. It is not well advertised.

Athletes do commercials promoting a product or their sport, but rarely are they seen raising awareness for the importance of self-care.  

According to the NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Study, student-athletes are 1.5 to two times more likely to report mental health concerns after the COVID-19 pandemic than they were prior to it.  

Some professional athletes, over the past ten years, have brought light to their situations and helped others across the country be comfortable sharing their stories.

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the final team competition in the 2021 Olympics due to the strain and mental health issues that she was dealing with, noting in a statement during the Tokyo Olympics that she’s “still scared to do gymnastics.” 

Matt Bradley works past a screen in the national semifinal. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Another notable athlete that went through mental health blocks is current Miami Heat’s power forward Kevin Love, who wrote about his fight with depression and anxiety in a Player’s Tribune essay called, “Everyone is Going Through Something.” Love started a movement amongst high-profile athletes in 2018. Love, who just played in the 2023 NBA Finals, has said that more people approach him about mental health topics than basketball ever since he penned the article.

“We are in a generation where being an “influencer” is the current trend.” licensed therapist Alyssa Jones told the East Village Times, “When those with large followings and fan bases use their platforms to raise awareness on things such as mental health, it can have a positive influence on people all around the world. By doing this, they are normalizing something that many of us feel is an isolated struggle or a lonely walk.”

Locally, SDSU star Matt Bradley brought a breath of fresh air with his honesty over the past few years. Bradley used his platform to reveal what really goes on behind the scenes for elite athletes. He made it okay for young players to be open about their mental health challenges.

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“When I entered the portal and came (to SDSU), during that time with COVID, I was really ready to just stop playing,” Bradley said on the podium following the loss to UConn in the National Championship. “I told myself, ‘You know what, Matt, it’s been tough, let’s just go home and get a job. Call it a day. You’ll be alright.’”

Bradley’s emotions communicated that playing was about more than just basketball at the end of the day. Like Bradley, student-athletes across the nation are facing real-world problems.

Matt Bradley reacts to Lamont Butler’s game-winning shot. Bradley let all SDSU scorers with 21 points. Jaedon LeDee was the only other Aztec in double-digits; he had 12. (Don De Mars/EVT)

According to a 2013 study, the NCAA Final Four was the fourth most expensive sporting event to buy a commercial, ranging around $700,000 per 30 seconds. The Men’s Basketball National Championship game cost $1.4M per 30 seconds, which ranked second behind only the Super Bowl. 

14.69 million viewers tuned in to watch the Aztecs play UCONN. It was the most-watched basketball game on the planet this year. Game five of the NBA Finals was a distant second with 13.09 million. Putting a price tag on the cost of the air time during Bradley’s message is possible, but the potential impact his words had on the millions he reached is priceless. 

“One of the first steps to seeking help is having the courage to do so,” Jones said when asked about Bradley’s impact on opening up on a big stage. “When celebrities and high-profile athletes speak about their experience with mental health, they’re displaying vulnerability and courage, which can influence others to do the same. It opens up an opportunity for those being influenced to now be courageous in taking the first step in the right direction.” 

High-profile celebrities and athletes are not the only way for awareness to get out to the public. From 1997 to 2017, the US increased direct-to-consumer advertising for mental health and addiction services 8,000 percent from $2 million to $162 million. About 21% of U.S. adults have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. With a little less than a quarter of the adult population going through mental struggles, more about the issues should be seen in everyday advertising.

“I share some of those details publicly just for people to understand the reality of college athletics,” Bradley Told EVT in an exclusive interview. “It’s more than just coming out there and playing. There’s a whole mental side to it that I think fans don’t really see, and I know a lot of athletes deal with it, and they’re probably not public about it.” 

“I always felt comfortable about sharing that piece about myself. Just being an older player in college, I feel like showing that real side of what people go through is very genuine and can be respected by a lot of athletes and a lot of fans. It’s just something that I felt comfortable sharing, and it actually brought a lot of attention upon myself as far as other athletes or people that would hit me up and say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate you sharing that. It’s helped me in this way.’ It’s something that I’ve been challenged with, but I’ve gotten better by being more open about it.”

The NBA draft is tonight, and the former SDSU star does not expect his name to be called. He has worked out with a few NBA teams, such as the Warriors, Clippers, TrailBlazers, Jazz, and Rockets. Making it to the next level is simply not easy. Bradley said he hopes to catch on to a summer league team and evaluate his professional prospects after that.

“For me, just get(ting) my body right, playing at a weight (where) I’m more comfortable, more explosive,” Bradley said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve been trying to work on right now. Being more efficient, as far as scoring, and I think that comes with being in better shape. Having that certain type of edge about me that I feel like I’m really confident and comfortable in my game is where I can improve a lot too. It just starts with mind and body for me and just putting in the work to be a pro.”

Bradley has been a prime example of what a student-athlete with a large platform should do not only for his community but for fans all over the country. Spreading awareness for the greater good and using his name and image towards something positive is an amazing thing for Matthew Bradley to be recognized for.

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