When we think of athletes, especially of world-class athletes, we usually visualize strong, fearless individuals who are ready to face tremendous challenges and adversity. After all, sports arenas are a place for fierce, determined competitors, ready and able to tear apart their opponents at the slightest hint of anxiety.
But sportsmen are human too, and they’re not immune from feelings of fear. In fact, it’s possibly their very fear of losing and not being the best at what they do that motivates athletes to strive for greater and more unbelievable heights of excellence.
But losing aside, other apprehensions live in the hearts of even the finest human specimens, some of those fears being quite ordinary — some others, pretty unusual. But all the same, they’re fears that these athletes unfortunately can’t easily hide from or pay their way out of. The following list comprises 10 athletes who have had to deal with crippling phobias.
10. Royce White – Basketball / Pteromerhanophobia / Career Earnings: $500,000
Basketball players are a real spectacle to watch flying through the air, about to slam a ball into the hoop. But apparently, not all ballers are comfortable taking flight. A prime example is the 16th overall selection of the 2012 NBA draft, Royce White.
White was drafted by the Houston Rockets, but was unable to play even a single game with the team, allegedly because the Rockets management had difficulty dealing with their newly acquired player’s mental health issue. White has pteromerhanophobia – the fear of flying.
The six-foot-eight power forward was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he was 10 years old. This disorder caused him to cancel his trip to Kentucky in 2010, preventing him from signing with the Kentucky Wildcats college team.
White’s fear of flying continued to get in the way of his basketball career’s progress when he signed with the Houston Rockets in 2012. He repeatedly complained about the team not handling his mental health issues properly. This led to White being reassigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets’ D-league team, where he initially refused to play citing an unsafe playing environment hostile to players with mental health issues. Eventually, however, he made his debut with the Vipers on February 12, 2013 and led the team with eight rebounds.
On July 13, 2013, it was officially announced that anxiety-riddled player had been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Quite predictably, this didn’t pan out well either, with White eventually being dropped from their roster.
At the moment it seems that, as Royce himself has stated, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever play in the NBA because of his fear of flying – such a waste since his contract with the 76ers would have made him $1.7 million for just one year of play.
9. Damian Lillard – Basketball / Automatonophobia / Career Earnings: $6.2 Million
2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA Skills Challenge champion Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers is undoubtedly a rising superstar. Lillard’s biggest fans must dream of a statue being one day erected in his honour, just like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson before him. But Lillard would probably be freaked out by the idea; he has automatonophobia – the fear of lifelike representations of people. Those representations may include ventriloquist dummies and realistic sculptures among others, but in Lillard’s case, he’s especially afraid of statues.
In an interview, he explained that he believes his phobia started after a visit to a wax museum two summers before his senior season at Weber State:
The last room was Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln — all these big-time historic people, and it looked just like them. Same size. They had music playing in the room to set the mood, and it just threw me off.
But how did that fear of wax figures transform into a fear of statues?
Ever since then, I’ve been done. Even at Lake Oswego, I drive past the cemetery, and there’s a statue of Jesus with his hands up. That even scared me. I don’t mess with statues no more. It’s the idea that they’re from so far back, and so big in our history. Just to see something that looks so close to them, it’s weird. It freaks me out.
Strange? Yes. But with Lillard being paid $3.2 million to play with the Trailblazers this season, he can probably afford to be a little bit weird.
8. Andy Roddick – Tennis / Leporiphobia / Career Earnings: $30 Million
Retired American tennis superstar Andy Roddick is probably braver than most little girls, except when it comes to bunny rabbits. Hes’s terrified of them. This was made known to his Davis Cup teammates in 2002 when Roddick was forced to attend an Easter morning brunch at the St. Regis Hotel, where the players were billeted.
According to accounts of how the day went, the hotel had hired a couple of mascots to wear various costumes of well-known Easter icons to make their rounds at the brunch. To everyone’s bewilderment (and slight amusement), Roddick grew extremely agitated when he saw the Easter Bunny frolicking about the premises. In fact, his anxiety with the mascot got so bad that he asked everyone around him to make sure that the bunny stayed far, far away from him.
Lucky for him, tennis players usually display the highest levels of sportsmanship and class. Otherwise, opponents could have easily resorted to wearing bunny ears to matches against Roddick. Had that happened, maybe his career earnings wouldn’t be as impressive as they are.
7. Josh Freeman – American Football / Elevator Phobia / Career Earnings: $23 Million
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and now Minnessota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman stands tall at six-foot-six. Maybe that’s why he fears elevators; perhaps he’s afraid that he’s going to hit his head while he’s walking out the lift.
But the truth is phobias are often very difficult, if not impossible to explain. And for Freeman, it’s also tough to understand why fate would choose to be so cruel to him. Of all people, he actually got stuck in an elevator.
It happened on a routine visit to his dentist. Freeman said of the incident, “It was only like five minutes, but it felt like forever. Yeah, the elevator is horrible.”
Thank goodness they got him out, otherwise that would’ve been a terrible waste of an athlete who’s worth a $3 million contract in 2013.
6. Eric Berry – American Football / Equinophobia / Career Earnings: $35 Million
Every time a touchdown is scored by the Kansas City Chiefs on their home turf, a horse named “Warpaint” makes a victory lap around the field. That’s actually pretty cute. But Chiefs safety Eric Berry isn’t very amused by the ceremony. In fact, several times he’s been caught on camera moving as far away as possible from Warpaint as the horse made its way onto the field.
“I don’t fool with no horses, boy!” Eric was recorded telling a teammate while the team mascot was making its rounds.
Another time, he explained to his teammate why he had his eyes glued on Warpaint:
“Trying to watch them. They sneaky.”
However, unlike many others, Berry is able to trace the root of his fear. Based on his recollection, he was at a petting zoo as a child when a pony suddenly bit him.
“I was like, ‘Dang horse, like… I trusted you’,” the 6-foot player recalled.
Fortunately, Berry is undergoing therapy for his equinophobia and seems to have already made some progress. Through therapy techniques such as hanging paintings of horses around his home and even coloring in drawings of horses, Berry was finally able to attend a meeting with Warpaint where he gently patted the horse and said, “Warpaint, I’m sorry I talked about you like that on TV. Just kinda slow it down a little bit on the field. And yeah, we’re cool.”
Good job, Eric! As the highest paid safety in the NFL making $10 million a year, you shouldn’t allow your fear of the team’s mascot to throw off your game.
5. Rafael Nadal – Tennis / Achluophobia / Career Earnings: $85 Million
They call him the Raging Bull because of the ferocious way he plays tennis. But off the court, Rafael Nadal is not so tough. Name it, he’s afraid of it: dogs, spiders, storms, motorbikes — he’s petrified of all of them.
Strongest among Rafa’s fears, however, is his fear of the dark. In fact, achluophobia has such a tight grip on Nadal that even being home alone at night makes him so nervous that he has to resort to sleeping on the sofa because he can’t deal with going to bed.
“I’m there with the TV on and all the lights on,” Rafa confesses.
Nadal’s phobias have resulted in some good though. His coach, Uncle Toni, used to exploit Rafa’s fears while training him by telling a young Nadal that if he didn’t exert his best effort, the thunder gods would unleash their wrath on him. Rafa seems to have benefited from the threats winning over $64 million in prize money so far in his career.
4. Lewis Hamilton – Formula 1 Racing / Arachnophobia / Career Earnings: $100 Million
Many people are afraid of spiders, arachnophobia being recognized as the world’s most common fear. Besides, it’s not unreasonable for people to be scared of the eight-legged creatures, some of them being quite poisonous.
However, it is surprising to see a Formula One World Champion and F1’s projected first ever billionaire with a crippling fear of arachnids. After all, if he can deal with navigating the twists and turns of a racetrack at blinding speeds, then he should be able to manage an encounter with a spider. But that’s not the case for Lewis Hamilton, who has a bad case of arachnophobia his whole life.
Lewis’s reason for his fear? “Has too many legs,” the racer reasons out.
3. David Beckham – Football / Ataxophobia / Career Earnings: $260 Million
Recently retired footballer David Beckham, the first Englishman to have won league championships in four different countries, is also considered a style icon. Even as he played the physically demanding sport, it seemed as if every strand of his hair maintained its position. Well, that likely didn’t happen by chance. Beckham probably exerted substantial effort to keep his hair in place as part of the way the immensely wealthy and popular outfield player dealt with ataxophobia, the fear of disorder.
David has publicly discussed his problem:
I’ve got this obsessive compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere.
I’ll go into a hotel room and before I can relax, I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer. Everything has to be perfect.
In fact, Beckham’s teammates from Manchester United used to deliberately rearrange the player’s clothes or move magazines around just to infuriate him. Luckily for Beckham, his millions can easily pay for someone to put everything back in its place.
2. Alex Rodriguez – Baseball / Nosocomephobia / Career Earnings: $350 Million
It’s usually a beautiful thing when a professional athlete who the public usually sees as ruthless and fiercely determined, becomes a new father. The moment is often intimate and touching, pictures of the newborn and father melting the hearts of sports fans everywhere. True enough, when Alex Rodriguez‘s first daughter was born in 2004, the public saw a new side of him — not a heartwarming side though.
According to Cynthia Rodriguez, wife of the New York Yankees third baseman, her husband fears doctors and any type of medical situation, causing A-Rod to pass out during the delivery of the couple’s first child.
She looks back to the ordeal with some humour:
The one nurse had a cold cloth on his head. The other nurse had the blood pressure on his arm. And my mother was like rubbing his back. And he is passed out on a couch. And I am there, in the middle of labor. And really, I am not being paid much attention to besides the doctor and a couple of nurses. And he is there moaning. In between pushing, I am going, “Honey, are you okay? Are you breathing? Are you okay?”
Well, at that moment Rodriguez probably wasn’t “okay” but it’s safe to say that with the million’s he’s made as one of baseball’s most popular stars, he’ll be just fine.
1. Tiger Woods – Golf / Mysophobia / Career Earnings: $550 Million
Good sportsmanship usually calls for players to shake hands with their competitors after a hard-fought match. But Tiger Woods isn’t about to do that, and it’s not because he’s a poor sport. The reason stems from Tiger’s mysophobia, the fear of germs.
Woods’s strange disorder is quite intriguing considering that athletes routinely exposes themselves to germs and bacteria. But perhaps the world’s number one golfer with 14 majors picked the right sport where he doesn’t have to get in contact with anyone and sweating is kept to a minimum.
Just how badly does Tiger fear germs? Despite his annual salary of an estimated $85 million, he insists on making his own bed – even in hotels – to ensure that his sleeping space is as germ-free as possible.