Tony Dejak/AP
Detroit Tigers' Dontrelle Willis

Tigers Pitcher Dontrelle Willis Takes Leave for Anxiety Disorder

March 30, 2009 02:15 PM
by Denis Cummings
Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis will miss the start of the season due to anxiety disorder, a condition that has affected numerous other professional athletes.

Willis Diagnosed With Anxiety Disorder

Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, a former 22-game winner who has struggled with his control in recent years, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday due to anxiety disorder.

The diagnosis was made by team doctors and specialists who conducted blood tests of Willis earlier this month. “Research suggests there are no lab tests to diagnose an anxiety disorder, but such tests can be used to look for physical causes for symptoms, ruling out other factors,” explains’s Jason Beck.

Willis accepted the diagnosis and agreed to receive treatment. “I’m never depressed,” he said. “I’ve always been a high-energy guy. This is something totally different. I’ve always been a guy that’s been upbeat, but they see something totally different. … I’m not crazy. My teammates might think I’m crazy, but this is not something like that. This is something totally different that I’m concerned about. This is something in my blood.”

The Tigers have given no timetable for Willis’ return to the team. In a similar case, Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke missed most of the 2006 season after leaving the team in Spring Training for treatment of his anxiety disorder.

Background: Athletes with anxiety disorders

Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke was a highly touted pitcher who debuted with the Kansas City Royals in 2004 as a 20-year-old. However, he grew to hate playing the game and became withdrawn as he struggled on the mound. He thought about quitting and nearly did in 2006, when he stormed off the field during a Spring Training workout.

Greinke, whose family has a history of depression, was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and given medication. After several months of workouts and minor league games, he began to enjoy baseball again. He returned to the Royals in September and has developed into one of the best young pitchers in baseball.

Jim Eisenreich
Jim Eisenreich grew up suffering from what would later be diagnosed as Tourette Syndrome, which caused muscle tics and jerks, and oftentimes a difficulty breathing. When he reached the majors as an outfielder, he was surrounded by fans in the outfield for the first time and began to feel embarrassed by the odd tics he would make between pitches.

Eisenreich’s anxiety became so bad that he sometimes left the field during an inning. He went into retirement in 1984 to receive treatment for his disorder and was officially diagnosed with Tourette’s. After two years of treatment he learned to manage his Tourette Syndrome and his severe anxiety, enabling him return to baseball and enjoy a successful career.

Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams won the Heisman trophy playing running back at the University of Texas and was drafted fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Hailed as the savior of the New Orleans Saints, Williams struggled with the media attention and often gave interviews with his helmet and visor still on.

He was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, and given medication and support. “After I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, I felt immense relief because it meant that there was a name for my suffering,” he said. “I wasn’t crazy or weird, like I thought for so many years.”

His play on he field improved drastically, as he developed into one of the NFL’s top running backs. However, Williams has struggled to remain in the NFL due to continued use of marijuana, which he allegedly uses to help him with his anxiety.

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Reference: Anxiety disorders


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