Jul 19, 2023 - Sports

Team USA player uses World Cup to address mental health crisis

A player on the U.S. women's national soccer team wearing a white jersey with a splattered blue design stands with her arms crossed and a slight smile.

San Diego Wave and U.S. Women's National Team defender Naomi Girma poses during a photo shoot for the 2023 Women's World Cup. Photo: Hannah Peters/FIFA via Getty Images

Team USA players, led by San Diego Wave defender Naomi Girma, launched a mental health initiative this week targeted at young athletes as the team prepares to compete in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup that starts Thursday evening local time.

Why it matters: There's a growing mental health crisis, particularly among young people and college athletes struggling with anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.

  • Girma and her teammates are working to de-stigmatize conversations around mental health as millions of young people around the world watch World Cup games.

What's happening: In partnership with the organization Common Goal, FOX Sports will dedicate 1% of its 2023 World Cup broadcast coverage to spotlighting the importance of mental health.

  • The coverage will include a three-part feature series and multiple public service announcements on the topic.
  • Fox Sports made Common Goal's 1% pledge to share the story of soccer's social impact in the U.S. during the 2022, 2023 and 2026 World Cups.
  • After the tournament, the group will send mental health professionals to youth sports organizations across the U.S., to give coaches and players tools and skills to help.

Between the lines: The initiative is personal for Girma and her USWNT teammates who played at Stanford University. Their friend and standout goalkeeper Katie Meyer died by suicide last spring, rocking the college campus and soccer world.

What they're saying: "We know first-hand how many people, especially student athletes, are struggling in silence, and we want to use our platform in this huge moment for something bigger than soccer," Girma wrote in The Players' Tribune in honor of her former teammate.

  • "We don’t want this to end simply at awareness. We want to make sure that young people have the tools to cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and the very bad days, when it feels like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, and it can never get better," she wrote.
  • "It can always get better."

What's next: The USWNT's historic pursuit of a third straight World Cup title, which has never been done on the men's or women's side, kicks off Thursday against Vietnam at 6pm.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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