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‘You’re not alone:’ Tyler Motte hopes to inspire others to discuss their mental health

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When Tyler Motte arrived in Vancouver last year for Canucks training camp, he underwent a physical with team doctors.

They took Motte’s vitals, conducted measurements, made sure all of his limbs worked correctly. Everything looked fine. Then the doctor asked: “Is there anything else you have going on, anything else we should be concerned about before camp?”

Motte, now 25, paused for a moment. “Actually,” he said. “There is one thing.” Then the words started flowing out of his mouth before he could consider the significance.

“Earlier in the summer, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression,” Motte said. “Do we have somebody for that?”

At that moment, Motte no longer held on to a secret. It wasn’t just him, his close family and his girlfriend who knew what he was going through. His employer knew as well. Although the conversation with the doctor was in confidence, Motte made himself vulnerable. Although the stigma surrounding mental health in professional sports is slowly eroding, there’s still a reason that many athletes don’t come forward with their experiences. It could trickle up to coaches and management, those who determine Motte’s playing time, contract and status with the team. It could make someone view Motte in a different light.

But Motte trusted the Canucks. He needed to create a support system for himself. Because that support system became so strong, he eventually realized that he could help others.

“It was an interesting feeling, to ask someone else for help,” Motte said. “But I’m very glad I did.”


Hockey has come a long way when it comes to understanding and accepting mental health disorders, but as with the rest of society, there is still a way to go. For the past decade, every January, the Canadian #BellLetsTalk campaign sweeps social media, with hundreds of players and coaches in the league sharing the hashtag intended to normalize conversations about mental health. In 2018 came a landmark moment for the NHL: Goalie Robin Lehner came forward with his story after being diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, as well as ADHD and post-traumatic stress. As his disorders went undiagnosed for years, Lehner became addicted to prescription sleeping pills and alcohol, and he eventually entered the NHL and NHLPA’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

As Lehner has noted, the program is confidential and designed for athletes to hide. Lehner wanted to be upfront and public about his experiences, knowing that he would have to interact with teammates, trainers and coaches on a daily basis and needed their support.

“I think we are living in a time where transparency and authenticity is valued,” commissioner Gary Bettman said of Lehner in 2019. “But I can’t remember another player in my time in the NHL who has been this open about such issues.”

That leads to Motte, who in many ways is a very typical player in the NHL. For years, dating to when he was a teenager with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Motte Tweeted #BellLetsTalk along with teammates. “Then, I might not have truly understood what I was doing,” Motte said. “I just knew what the cause was and the purpose. But now, going through my experiences, I understand how important it is.”

When Lehner came forward with his story, Motte took notice, despite not knowing the goalie. “I remember feeling empowered,” Motte said. “Feeling like it takes courage to just share what’s going on on such a personal deep level. I respected it, but I think at that time, I didn’t fully understand what I was going through either.”

It’s sometimes hard for Motte to find the words to talk about his mental health disorders, mostly because they are nuanced. There was no “aha” moment, no breaking point, no blow-up that led to a diagnosis. There were, however, gradual signs.

Motte grew up in a small town of about 5,000 called St. Clair, Michigan, which is along the Canadian border just south of Sarnia, Ontario. He picked up hockey because his older brother, C.J., played goalie. Motte wanted to follow C.J.’s footsteps. “Luckily, my parents talked me out of being a goalie,” he said.

Motte has long been on a strong trajectory. He committed to the University of Michigan his sophomore year of high school. He played for the National Team Development Program for two years alongside plenty of future NHLers, including JT Compher, Seth Jones, Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. In 2013, Motte was drafted in the fourth round (No. 121 overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks, and he signed a pro contract after three years at Michigan.

Motte’s professional career hit a few early roadblocks. As he toggled between the Blackhawks’ NHL and AHL rosters, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2017, as a part of the Artemi Panarin deal. “It was a bit of a shock,” Motte said. “It’s an interesting feeling being a young player, trying to find your way in the league, then you get the script flipped on you, and you have to go to a completely new situation and adjust.”

Eight months later, Motte was traded again, this time to Vancouver along with Jussi Jokinen in exchange for Thomas Vanek. “It’s a little uneasy,” Motte said. “I was just a piece of those trades a few times, but the feedback I was given from the teams I was heading to was always positive. Of course, it could just be a way to justify the trade, but you have to believe in it to an extent. You have to be open-minded to what is going on.”

In 2018-19, Motte had his first full season with the Canucks organization; it was a turning point, as he was on the cusp of becoming a regular NHL player. But he had a hard time separating his hockey career from how he was feeling.

Motte didn’t have the appetite to be social, often turning down invitations to go out and missing out on experiences. He fell back on a variety of excuses. Motte knew he was an introvert by nature, but it got past the point of wanting to enjoy time by himself. “It came down to my life feeling dull and boring,” he said.

His mood fluctuated. He felt like there were few things in life that could bring him enjoyment.

Motte’s girlfriend took notice. She told Motte that he needed to seek help. “It was hard to hear at first,” he said. “It’s hard to hear that from someone you love and care about. But after a few conversations, I realized it was worth talking to someone. But just getting to the point where I could sit down and talk to someone — that was a massive step, a massive obstacle for me.”

Motte made an appointment with a therapist in Michigan early last summer. “Honestly, the first experience wasn’t great,” he said. “I don’t enjoy talking about myself, generally, so to go in there and talk for an hour about things going on inside me that I don’t understand, that’s not an easy thing to do.”

Even though it was uncomfortable, Motte went back the next week. Then he went back again and again, and he was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

“Everyone wants to go in and lay out their problems and figure out how to get rid of them,” Motte said. “Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.”

As Motte began to develop a relationship and trust with his therapist, he knew it wouldn’t be easy when the offseason was over and he had to travel back to Vancouver.

He decided to disclose his experience to the Canucks doctors so they could help ease the transition. Team doctors recommended another therapist in Vancouver, whom Motte began seeing this season. He also began working more closely with the Canucks’ mental skills coach. Both mental health professionals have helped Motte learn to engage with his inner self “and counteract some of the things that were going on,” he said.

“I found that I could take some of the sting, some of the strain, some of the stress off my mental health by introducing some of those conversations into a hockey or performance conversation as well,” Motte said. “So that was a really good step and a really good balance for me.”

The mental health professionals also helped Motte identify tools to cope, which was helpful during the uncertainty of the NHL pause and life in the bubble, which at times felt isolating.

Motte has learned to approach situations or feelings from multiple angles. He has focused on forcing himself to go outside and be active, even when he doesn’t want to be. This was especially useful on off days in the Edmonton bubble, where because of the hotel setup, some players went days without going outside and breathing fresh air.

Motte also began talking to people more, whether it was a therapist or a friend, “sometimes to blow off steam,” he said. “Sometimes just using words to try to describe what’s going on.”

Lastly, Motte began celebrating small victories. “Sometimes that meant reading a chapter of a book,” he said. “I’m not a big reader, but I enjoyed this book I was reading, and sometimes I would feel better if I just read a chapter.” Sometimes that meant making a cup of coffee in the morning, realizing it tasted great and enjoying it. Sometimes it meant being proud of picking up the phone and having a tough conversation with a friend or family member.

“Those little things add up over time,” Motte said. “And those are things I noticed in my life that helped me turn a corner.”

In January, the Canucks hosted a Hockey Talks game night, dedicated to mental health awareness; this season was the seventh annual event for the Canucks, who began them in 2013 in honor of Rick Rypien. Organizers asked Motte and a few other players if they would share a message of support to promote the event.

“I actually might have a little bit more to offer to that conversation,” Motte remembers saying.

He knew he wanted to come forward with his diagnosis, but he didn’t know what that would look like. On a road trip in Florida, team videographers arranged a shoot for Motte. “It kind of just hit me that, yes, it was about telling my story and sharing a few experiences,” he said. “But the bottom line wasn’t to do that. The reason I wanted to do it was to help somebody. Even if I could just reach one person, if just one person could go see someone earlier than I did or if some person could talk to their family about it or ask themselves some tough questions, then it was worth it for me to have a 10-, 15-minute awkward conversation.”

At the time, Motte said none of his teammates knew of his diagnosis. Neither did many of his friends back home. He knew some of the information that he was sharing might have been more than some of his closest friends and family even knew, so he called them to give them a heads-up. “Being able to do it on my own terms brought enough peace to me that what people thought now or then means much less,” he said.

Once the video was released, Motte realized that with his platform as a professional athlete, he is able to reach many more. “You realize how powerful your words can be,” he said. He heard from teammates, strangers, fans and other players around the league.

“It was a big thing for me knowing that it’s not just on me to deal with things I deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Motte said. “It’s also on me to help others. And that can go for everybody. I think as a society we need that, now more than ever.”

Although he had some tough luck with injuries — he was injured to begin the season and then broke his foot blocking a shot, which limited him to 34 regular-season games — Motte had a breakout postseason with four goals in 17 games. He continued to endear himself to fans with his physicality (he has recorded 318 hits in his past 108 regular-season games) and his prowess on the penalty kill. He is a restricted free agent this offseason and should figure into the Canucks’ long-term plans.

After the Canucks were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in a seven-game, second-round series, Lehner stopped Motte in the handshake line, and the two shared a moment.

“He basically said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,'” Motte said. “‘It’s helping. And you’re not alone.'”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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