Dr. Barbara Roberts said she doesn’t mind losing a little sleep. As the Washington Football Team’s new psychologist, Roberts would prefer being woken up in the middle of the night with a player in crisis rather than putting it off until the morning.
“If an issue comes up at 3 a.m., you don’t feel like you have to wait,” she said. “You can go ahead and call.”
Washington announced Roberts as its new director of well and clinical services — making her only the seventh full-time clinician in the NFL. The hire comes as sports leagues, and society as a whole, have pushed to make mental health a priority over the past few years.
Roberts’ plan is to install a teamwide service available for players, coaches and other staff members. Roberts has served as a long-time psychologist whose experience includes consulting with the White House’s national drug control policy program and the NFL. She said Washington approached her about a job in April, though she’s known Dr. Anthony Casolaro — the team’s lead doctor — for 12 years.
“When this position opened up, there was kind of a mutual awareness that we needed to become more proactive, working with players from the beginning,” Roberts said, “rather than address a problem after. The sooner we can get and address it, then the more positive the likely outcome is.”
Roberts said she’s worked with Washington’s rookie class, incorporating the guidelines mandated by the NFL and the players’ union. The two parties agreed in 2019 that each team should have a behavioral health clinician available in facilities at least 8 to 12 hours per week and would develop mental health awareness programs for players.
A number of players have advocated for mental health awareness, speaking out about their own trauma. Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, for example, revealed in 2019 that he attempted suicide while in college and shares his story in hopes that it can help others.
Just this week, the intersection of sports and mental health has been again spotlighted with tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open after she announced she would skip her press conferences, citing mental health concerns.
Osaka said Monday that she suffers from “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the press and would withdraw from the tournament to focus on her well-being. Before her withdrawal, the Open fined her $15,000 for not speaking to the press.
Asked about Osaka, Roberts said “it’s amazing” at the amount of support that Osaka has received.
“We have to stop and really listen to the athletes,” Roberts said. “Listen to the issue. Not just the athletes, but anyone else for that matter. But here you have someone who is very high profile and you think that mental health issues could not stimy their progress. You know what? We’re finding out just the opposite.
“I hope she gets the help that she needs.”
Roberts said she’s there to provide help for Washington.
“We want to normalize the process to be here, to be available to them,” she said.