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On Dex, Mental Illness, And Moving Forward

Artwork by Brian Swope

Before I dive in, let me say that the following words are some of the most difficult I have ever had to communicate. The topic at hand is difficult to talk about to say the least. However, I believe that it’s a discussion that must be had. We must have it for the sake of Dexter Fowler, for me, and for everyone who struggles with mental illness or is a fan of Cardinal baseball.

In 2018, Dexter Fowler had easily the worst season in his career. He slashed .180/.278/.298, put up a paltry 62 wRC+, and managed a woeful -1.2 WAR. Pick whatever standard of performance measurement you want. Dex was near the bottom of every single one. Hardly what you would expect from a player that was signed to be a spark plug for the offense.

There are few fanbases that have become as demanding as Cardinal Nation. Heralded as the “Best Fans in Baseball”, we have increasingly turned into the spoiled rich kids of MLB whose angst is most fitting of being put to simple chorded music by the Chainsmokers.

Success has the potential of ruining the fanbase. We whine about a game and demean the players we are supposed to love and support. It got so bad last season that both Dexter and his wife Aliyah left social media completely. Yes, fan angst reached all the way to Dex’s personal life. He began to feel the collective weight of an entire fanbase on his shoulders.

As the consumer it is the fan’s prerogative to take issue with a lackluster product performance. However, when the commodity we are talking about is entertainment and the source of said entertainment is people, there comes a point where it’s time to have a heart. I believe this to be the case with Dex. Dexter Fowler, the man, dealt with a cloud of demons last year that undoubtedly affected his on field play.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an insightful piece on Dexter Fowler’s struggles with mental illness last season. Many fans shrugged it off as a cop out or an excuse. It was neither and it is time we recognize that. Mental illness is a real thing that can affect anyone regardless of their station in life. Money doesn’t cure all bad things in your life.

Baseball players are more than just baseball players. They are people. All people deserve to be treated with a certain level of dignity and respect. Dexter Fowler is no different. He deserves our support and he deserves our love as fans. No man has been harder on Dexter Fowler than the man himself.

The reason why Dex needs our support is because he’s not alone in this fight. I know what it feels like to fight mental illness. My family has a history of mental illness coming from both parents. It’s not something that is trivial, laughable, or worth being used to demean a person. It is a real sickness that millions of Americans struggle with.

If nothing else, my own struggles with mental illness have taught me that there is often more going on underneath the surface than we ever actually realize. I believe this is something that, as fans, we can often forget when we’re talking about players who play for the teams we love.

We forget that there’s more going on under the surface that we can’t see.

Just because we don’t completely understand mental illness is no reason to pass it off as an excuse, a cop out, or just a way to try and shift the blame. I believe Dexter Fowler when he says that he was suffering from depression and it affected his game. I know this because I know that depression has affected my own game, the game of life. It has had a crippling effect to the point where I was no longer my self.

My friends and family believed that they were looking at a different person. One of the striking things about Dexter’s story to me is that, in the piece by Derrick Goold, his wife Aliyah even says that she didn’t recognize her husband. It wasn’t the same person. If that doesn’t tell you that there was more going on than what you realize then nothing that anyone says will ever convince you.

Mental illness has a way of crippling a person, making it impossible for them to go through their daily life as they know it. That’s why I take Dexter Fowler at his word. What we witnessed last year was not the normal Dex. The only question is, how do we all move forward from it? We need to move on for Dex’s sake and our own.

We move forward by recognizing that there was a problem, that Dex has taken the opportunity to address the issue, and we as a fan base should begin to rally around him and his family and give him our full support. The key to any kind of recovery is a solid support system. There are millions of Cardinal fans that can rally around Dex and give him an extra boost of support. Instead of feeling the weight of a fan base on his shoulders, Dexter needs to feel the strength and support of a fan base lifting him up.

I can remember when Rick Ankiel was struggling with the yips. The fan base was upset, yes, but we took it easy on a then rookie pitcher. We did not demean him, attack him personally, or take shots at his family. There is absolutely no excuse for that to happen out of this fan base. And anyone who does it should be ashamed of themselves.

I for one, am throwing my full support behind Dexter Fowler as the right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. I know what mental illness is like and I know what it is like to try to live with it. I have not yet mastered or overcome the illness that is attacking my brain, but I am on my way to a path of health and normalcy. That’s why I know that Dexter Fowler can overcome this.

So from one person who suffers from extreme depression to another, Dexter Fowler you have my full support. I will continue to pray for you, your wife, and your beautiful children as you continue to overcome and defeat this demon. I hope everyone who reads these words would join me as well. God bless you Dex and go Cardinals!

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