Mental Health Monologue: Depression
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Book Review: Playing Hurt

The late John Saunders was a beloved sportscaster for decades.  He covered every sport under the sun, as well as hosting ESPN's SportsCenter, The Sports Reporters, and college football coverage.  Saunders was highly regarded as a kind and thoughtful man who was widely-respected throughout his industry.  John Saunders died in 2016, but he leaves behind one final gift in the form of his new memoir: Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope.  In this book, Saunders gives an astoundingly honest account of his lifelong struggle with depression.  

Playing Hurt pulls back the veil of secrecy around many secrets in John Saunders' life.  He, along with co-author John U. Bacon, pull no punches in discussing his painful childhood, and how that, and especially dealing with a verbally and physically abusive father, installed feelings of self-loathing at an early age.  The book holds nothing back when discussing his drug use and issues with violence and self-harm as a teen as he pursued a professional hockey career before eventually switching to broadcasting and becoming one of the most popular sports reporters of his generation.

That alone would make for an interesting book.  However, that's only the beginning.  The crucial element of Playing Hurt is Saunders explaining his problems with depression in a way that can be easily understood.  He details his feelings of despair, anxiety, and hopelessness, but also vividly explains the relentlessness of his illness, as well as the various forms of treatment he underwent in search of relief.  His stints in hospitals and a psychiatric ward are discussed in detail.  Suicidal feelings and near-attempts are also described at length.  

Playing Hurt makes it clear that depression doesn't care who you are.  It doesn't care about your race, gender, age, family background, professional success, or anything else like that.  This book also does an amazing job of saying to readers who suffer from this illness, "You are not alone," which is a message that can never be stated often enough.  If you are someone who has direct or indirect experience with depression, much of his story will sound familiar.  If you haven't been in that position, this book may help you better understand this condition and not ask, "Why would someone who has so much be depressed?" 

The honesty of this book, especially for such a public figure (who assumed he'd be alive when it was eventually published), is breathtaking.   It becomes increasingly difficult to read Playing Hurt as you approach the final pages, knowing that there will be no follow-up.  I would have given anything to hear Saunders give interviews to talk about his story in more detail. 

Playing Hurt is a gripping story, it is an emotional story, and above all else, it is an important story.  It is not hyperbole to say that this book will save lives.  It is a must-read, and I thank John Saunders for having had the courage to write it and share it with the rest of us.


John Saunders Playing Hurt July 14 2017

A powerful story.  (pic via

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (August 8, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306824736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306824739


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