Bergen company pushes mental health services for female athletes
It all started with a phone call before the start of the season last year.
The Metropolitan Riveters were one year into their 2021 professional women’s ice hockey season inside the COVID pandemic bubble, and athlete mental health was a priority. For team captain Madison Packer, the issue was deeply personal, having lost loved ones to suicide and drug addiction. Hoping to find resources for her team, she reached out to her then-general manager, who was also his wife, Anya.
Packer remembers saying, “It’s something that’s getting closer and closer to home. I really think it’s important for us to have resources as athletes, not just to be better athletes, but to be better people.
Within weeks, the Riveters hosted their first mental health awareness night at a home game against Boston Pride. The event symbolized the start of a new partnership between the team and Baker Street Health and Human Performance, a Paramus-based medical group that has agreed to provide the team with medical support, behavioral health services, a mental skills training, etc.
“It’s just kind of slowly, week by week, being integrated into this bigger thing,” Packer said. “They gave us more access to resources than I don’t think we could have ever imagined. We can go to therapy as many times a week as we want, and we never get a bill. This is unheard of. Everything comes from [Baker Street] grateful that there were those athletes who needed help.
The partnership between Baker Street and the Riveters, who staged their home opener at American Dream this weekend, is groundbreaking. The partnership also highlights a broader problem in professional sports, where resources are often lacking for women’s teams due to insufficient funding or investment. This partnership can be seen as a step towards strengthening health equity in sport, with a particular focus on mental health at a time when these resources are critical.
Baker Street has a proven track record of working with professional sports teams. The group’s client portfolio includes the Brooklyn Nets, New York Red Bulls, New Jersey Devils, New York Liberty and Gotham FC. In recent years, the group has shifted its focus to working more with professional women’s teams to ensure fairness.
“One of the things we know as a group that we can deliver is health equity,” said Baker Street co-founder Joe Galasso. “It’s something that is very achievable. Our group could provide the same medical care that we provide to men’s teams to women’s teams, so we made this our initiative and began to seek out women’s teams interested in partnering to achieve these goals.
Although Baker Street has experience with teams in the NWSL and WNBA, the group’s partnership with Premier Hockey Federation member The Riveters is the most extensive of the group. This is largely because the league is still in its infancy, with many players juggling their professional ice hockey careers with another full-time job. For comparison, the NWSL just completed its 10th season and the WNBA is the longest-running professional women’s league in the country, having completed 25 seasons.
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Through this partnership, Baker Health provides a liaison in each practice who remains on standby for the team when needed. The group’s medical staff is also available to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The group offers performance psychologists who can offer group workshops or individual sessions. There are physiotherapists, sports trainers, massage therapists. The partnership includes “a lot of triage” to find any medical professional the athlete might need as the season progresses.
“In terms of a fully integrated medical, behavioral and performance system, the Riveters embraced the entire package,” Galasso said. “And I think that’s why we’re most proud of what we’re doing with them, because they’ve given us carte blanche to really apply all aspects of our services to this team, and it’s been so well received. “
For Galasso and Baker Street, forging this relationship with the Riveters is their way of setting an example for other companies to also invest in women’s sport. One of the biggest obstacles preventing women’s leagues from achieving equity in several aspects is either lack of investment or lack of funding – and medical services, especially for mental health, can be very expensive.
“I can’t help on the salary side. I can’t put cigarette ends in the seats, I can’t help with ticket sales, but I can make sure the players are taken care of. I can make sure their families are taken care of and they feel better,” Galasso said. “And we know that if the players feel better, they will perform better and there will be a better product on the pitch. And if there’s a better product out there, there will be more cigarette butts in the seats – so people will pay more attention.
For Packer, the availability of mental health resources for Riveters is tied to a larger goal. In recent years, Packer has become a strong advocate for mental health. In June, she shared her own mental health struggles through a personal essay on the University of Wisconsin athletics website. The partnership with Baker Street, in many ways, is the culmination of Packer using his platform as a professional athlete to further that conversation.
“I personally think that every professional sports team in any sport, anywhere in the world, should have some sort of sports shrink on staff, whether you just have a league sports shrink that people can refer to.” , Packer said. “It’s just something that’s not always valued as much because you can look at someone who’s really depressed and they might look fine to you, but if their leg is broken the doctor won’t allow them to play. .
It’s about “getting everyone in the world of sport to recognize and agree that mental illness and mental health are just as important as physical health, and to allocate resources and funding in this area” , Packer said.