Constable: Schaumburg's Mondo on track with mental health film about athletes and fans

  • Brand manager Phil Espisito says the new Mondo Cares documentary delves into the often unhealthy relationship between athletes and fans.

    Brand manager Phil Espisito says the new Mondo Cares documentary delves into the often unhealthy relationship between athletes and fans. Courtesy of Lisa Vito

  • An award-winning filmmaker, Darryl Roberts is the director of "I'm Fine, (Not) Really," a documentary that interviews athletes, fans, coaches and mental health experts about the often toxic relationships infecting sports and society.

    An award-winning filmmaker, Darryl Roberts is the director of "I'm Fine, (Not) Really," a documentary that interviews athletes, fans, coaches and mental health experts about the often toxic relationships infecting sports and society. Courtesy of Darryl Roberts

  • A Hall of Fame and All-American track star, Lashawn Gee now helps athletes and others deal with stress through The Elle Gee coaching website.

    A Hall of Fame and All-American track star, Lashawn Gee now helps athletes and others deal with stress through The Elle Gee coaching website. Courtesy of Lashawn Gee

 
 
Posted5/19/2022 5:20 AM

Athletes ranging from Olympians to teens at Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, Hersey, Wheeling and other suburban high schools perform on tracks and sports flooring made by Mondo, the international manufacturer with a U.S. headquarters in Schaumburg.

"We care about athletes and coaches -- on, and more importantly, off, the surface," says Phil Espisito, business development/brand manager at Mondo America. He also heads up Mondo Cares, the company's community service arm and the producer of a documentary that interviews athletes, coaches, experts and fans about the mental health issues often seen in sports.

 

"We're using sports to enhance community," Espisito says. Titled "I'm Fine, (Not) Really," the film will air at 4 p.m. Monday, May 30, on NBC 5.

Director Darryl Roberts, an award-winning Chicago filmmaker, says he wanted to make the film after watching a 2021 selfie-video posted by Olympic champion hurdler Sydney McLaughlin.

"I don't want fame. I don't want any of that. It's toxic," a teary McLaughlin says from her car, noting that people on social media mouth off about her number of followers, her looks and her light skin tone.

"At the age of 21, to be a two-time Olympian and a world-record holder, I would just like a little bit of respect," McLaughlin pleads.

Roberts remembers thinking, "Wow! This is a major breakdown for someone who just won a gold medal."

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He knew that people had heard stories of depression and other mental health issues shared publicly by athletes such as tennis star Naomi Osaka, Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard, Chicago Bull DeMar DeRozan and gymnast Simone Biles.

"I figured what was unique was the fans' perspective," says Roberts, who interviewed fans, athletes from teens to Olympic legends Michael Johnson and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, coaches and mental health experts for his film. "I wanted to connect athletes and sports fans so they have more empathy."

A standout basketball player who earned the nickname "Dr. Dunkenstein" during his years at Lindblom High School on Chicago's South Side, Roberts got a taste of the abuse that can come when an athlete falls short of expectations as a freshman at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, when his young squad played a University of North Carolina team that featured Michael Jordan.

"That was the moment I knew I wasn't going to make it," Roberts says.

Making the film taught him that even some of the greatest athletes know that feeling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The biggest surprise was the insecurities of elite athletes across the board," Roberts says. "Some of their confidence is masking insecurities."

One of the film's speakers, track star Lashawn Gee, remembers the pressure, even in high school. "I tripped on the fourth hurdle and flipped over the fifth and slid over the finish line," says Gee, who remembers feeling that she let down her coach, her family, her teammates, her friends and the entire community. But she recovered to win her next two races.

Now a speaker, author and mindset coach at her ElleGee Wellness Solutions, the 41-year-old says a hurdler's stumble is no different than an overworked server's bringing out the wrong sidedish, or a cashier's mistakenly ringing up an item twice after spending half her night taking care of a fussy baby.

"We're all the same when we take off our uniform and put on our street clothes. It's the same type of pressure," Gee says.

With the popularity of gambling, some fans have not just an emotional attachment to an athlete or team, but also a financial stake. Whatever the cause, Roberts says Americans seem angrier and quicker to lash out at others online and in person.

"Our society has become less civil," Roberts says. His film aims to remedy that by making an impact on the abusers.

"A lot of sports fans tell me they feel bad about what they've been writing on social media," Roberts says. "I haven't heard one negative comment. I think it's because it (the film) sets out to further humanity. Let's add to humanity. Let's not be part of the problem."

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