The Kraken have unveiled on social media and their website the launch of this season’s Hockey Talks initiative, which is focused around mental health awareness. Hockey Talks is more broadly an NHL-wide initiative, which began in 2013 after the tragic death of former Canucks forward Rick Rypien. His death sparked the idea of teams providing community resources to help break down the stigmas surrounding mental health. Teams elect to participate in the Hockey Talks campaign and from there create their own initiatives that are unique to their fanbases.
For the Kraken’s version, they have teamed up with Premera Blue Cross to create a resource guide as well as a series of videos. In these videos, Kraken players Riley Sheahan, Haydn Fleury, Chris Driedger, and Brandon Tanev open up and have a candid and vulnerable conversation with each other.
Above is the first of four videos, with the rest being found on the Kraken website’s official Hockey Talks campaign page. This page also compiles multiple resources such as links to emergency hotlines, resources to find therapists and support groups in the Seattle area, and the definitions and roles of different types of healthcare providers to assist in helping people make the right choices for their needs.
The timing of this launch corresponds with January 15th’s Hockey Talks Mental Health Awareness Night game. According to a report from Yahoo Sports, the team is going to hand out 18,000 flags to those in attendance at the game that represent a vital mental health statistic. 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental health issues, so 1 in 5 flags will be white instead of teal. The crowd at Climate Pledge Arena will become a picture of how many Americans are truly impacted by this issue.
This launch is truly a major off-ice win for the Kraken. When it comes to hockey, I am a believer that there are so many things about its overarching culture that need changed. One of those is the fact that, for so many in the sport, reaching out and getting help like this doesn’t feel like an option. Think about it: hockey players are told to play through anything. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when a team’s eliminated and the injury report rolls out, you’re staring at the list often wondering how any of them are still alive after playing the sport while that broken.
If that’s how they treat physical health, imagine how they treat mental health.
After all, this is also a culture where rocking the boat is frowned upon. You’re supposed to be a true team player, selfless above all. In my own experience, reaching out for help can be difficult specifically because you feel selfish for it. You feel like you might be burdening other people. Making them drop what they’re doing to come tend to your needs? “Nope, won’t do it, that’s too much to ask of anyone.” But the longer you push it off, the more it begins to snowball into something worse.
The Kraken players in these videos address that issue. They’re speaking up and saying that you shouldn’t push it off, that you need to tell people when you’re suffering so that you can begin to get help and get out of a place of struggle.
What makes that truly impactful is that these aren’t just canned statements. This isn’t the players going to Twitter and throwing out a quick “#BellLetsTalk” that donates only 5 cents for said tweet. The players are having a true conversation with each other — and in letting themselves be filmed for it, they’re having the conversation with us, too. The fourth wall almost seems to come down, like us viewers are making up the other half of the semi-circle they’re sitting in, and we’re silent listeners in this group session. That’s powerful. They’re choosing to let us in and to share things with how many strangers (the Twitter version already has over 6,100 views as I write this) that are going to be watching these videos.
By being open like this, the Kraken are leading by example. Hopefully people see this and say, “Hey, if the Kraken can do it, so can I.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Kraken are getting this one right, because from day one, they’ve been using their status as a new team to set the bar for what a socially-conscious NHL team should look like. What feels refreshing, though, is that their players seem to be willing to join in on that mission. For someone like Sheahan, it’s only natural that he was willing in this case because mental health has been a cause he’s championed for a while. He hosts a podcast called “Speak Your Mind” that is specifically centered about mental health topics, making him no stranger in opening up like he does here. However, it’s players like Fluery, Driedger, and Tanev choosing to get involved alongside him that truly make the difference. It would have been easy for the Kraken to single Sheahan out as their sole ambassador on the subject and let him carry this alone, but instead, a team effort was made. It’s not just one Kraken player stressing mental health awareness, it’s multiple of them. This is the team caring about the issue.
And this is where I echo the Kraken’s sentiment. Never be afraid to seek help. Whether it’s talking to a loved one or making an appointment with a trained professional, reach out. Know that you deserve help and that you don’t have to struggle alone forever. It’s not weak or selfish to need help. Trust me, opening up to someone makes a difference.