Being a professional athlete is incredibly taxing both physically and mentally; for many years, the press just focused on the physical demands. But now, famous athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are using their platforms to raise awareness about mental health by sharing their own stories.
Athletes eliminating the mental health stigma
Due to a mental health issue, gymnast Simone Biles famously withdrew from the 2021 Olympic all-around gymnastics competition. She courageously chose not to compete because her mental health was affecting her physical performance, which could cause injuries. When Biles withdrew, it was an eye-opening message for everyone: mental health is just as important as your physical health.
(Source: Glamour, 2021)
Like Biles, tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open press conferences due to mental health issues. Osaka is not a natural public speaker and wanted to focus her energy on the matches coming up in Paris. She wrote an article for TIME and stated that “Athletes are humans” and that her personal reasons for not wanting to participate in the press conferences should be respected.
(Source: People, 2021)
These athletes are working to make mental health more normalized and easier to talk about. Being an athlete is no longer just about repairing your ACL; mental wellness plays a significant role in how you compete.
Gen Z — Mental health is on their minds
The need for mental wellness among young adults is huge. According to the American Psychological Association, 55% of Gen Z struggles with mental health and are 27% more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor.
Young people struggling with emotional wellbeing ultimately reflects a broader issue in society. We need influencers who can raise awareness, create resources, and eliminate the stigma around mental wellness.
Healthcare sponsorship opportunities
When you think about athletes and sponsorships, three categories come to mind: apparel brands, food/nutrition brands, and insurance companies. I mean, we’ve all seen the State Farm commercials with Patrick Mahomes II at least 10 times, right?
But interestingly enough, healthcare does not come to mind. However, with more athletes speaking out about health and mental wellness, this opens doors for healthcare sponsorship opportunities.
Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X make up 82% of Biles and Osaka’s fans. These generations have a lot of spending power, even Gen Z. According to our 2021 Gen Z Report, this generation has a purchasing power of $323 billion. That power could grow by 4x when accounting for influence in the home.
Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka Fans
- Gen Z: 18.62%
- Millennials: 34.92%
- Gen X: 28.95%
Recently, Biles joined the mental health startup app Cerebral as their Chief Impact Officer to help make mental health counseling more accessible and affordable. Since joining the startup, the company has raised $300 million in venture capital and now has a valuation of $4.8 billion.
Biles and Osaka have a lot of influence; combined, they have almost 3 million followers on Twitter. Their fans also prioritize their mental wellness by using these three healthcare apps: Talkspace, Headspace, and Calm.
Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka Fans' Favorite Healthcare Apps
1. Talkspace – 5.64x
2. Headspace – 2.96x
3. Calm – 2.64x
Their fans also love Podcast Influencers and the mental health podcast “Therapy for Black Girls.”
Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka Fans Love Podcasts
- Podcast Influencers: 2.24x
- Therapy for Black Girls Podcast: 6.75x
When Osaka spoke out about her mental health struggles, her current sponsors supported her. Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, said Osaka’s actions made her a more authentic spokesperson — and more valuable to corporate sponsors.
Athletes have a lot more power than they used to because of their ability to go directly to the fans; their fans also represent a large amount of spending power.
Building on the willingness of athletes to be upfront about their mental wellness creates opportunities for healthcare companies to be more vocal about how to address these issues, not just Biles and Osaka. Health-related companies, not just drug companies, have a huge opportunity to partner with these mindful athletes to address these unmet needs in the population and remove the stigma. By partnering with these athletes, they can raise awareness about their brand while connecting with more fans, especially younger audiences.
Knowing which influencers are a good match and within your budget for your audience is not easy and is often a fast-moving target. A tool like Helixa can help you get through this complex task a lot faster.
Bridget is the Marketing Coordinator at Helixa, where she manages social media, video content, and champions company culture. In her free time, she loves listening to musical theatre podcasts, cooking vegan food, and spending way too much time on TikTok.