Shy Athletes

Athletes Who Are Shy and How They Cope With Shyness

Shyness as an athlete can turn a life in the spotlight into a uncomfortable prison of public scrutiny. While some shy athletes blossom in the limelight, others do their best to avoid being the center of attention at all costs. Below are some famous shy athletes and how they handle shyness while maintaining their careers.

Cathy Rigby

Photo: Getty / Stephen Lovekin

Cathy Rigby is an Olympic gymnast, motivational speaker and entertainer; she was the first American female to win a medal at the World Gymnastics Competition. Rigby retired from sports at age 20 to pursue her acting career despite her shyness.

Dontrelle Willis

Detroit pitcher
Photo: Getty / Al Messerschmidt

Dontrelle Willis is a professional baseball player who was placed on the disabled list in 2009 for social anxiety disorder (SAD). There was some controversy over whether this was an accurate diagnosis for Willis, who spoke little of any anxiety symptoms. Willis talks about how he copes with the pressures of the sport:

"Everybody says they want to have fun, but when you struggle, it's not as fun as when you're playing well, obviously. Now my mindset is just simplified, going out there and really just thinking about myself and not really caring about anybody else as far as what they think. I'm not going out there and, excuse me, pitching with a gun to my head instead of just going out there and having fun. You make a pitch, and if you don't [execute] it, go on to the next one.

Joe DiMaggio

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Joe DiMaggio was known as the greatest baseball player of his era. Nicknamed the "Yankee Clipper", DiMaggio was the winner of numerous awards during his career. At the same time he was known to be shy:

"He was always kind of shy," manager Tommy Lasorda said of DiMaggio. "He felt uncomfortable with a lot of people, but yet he was always there as a tremendous representative of our game of baseball. He was an icon."

Khalil Greene

Baseball player
Photo: Getty / Christian Petersen

Khalil Greene is a professional baseball player who was placed on the disabled list in 2009 because of social anxiety disorder (SAD). Greene has talked publicly about his emotional issues and taking the sport too seriously. It is believed that he was receiving treatment for anxiety at the time he was placed on the disabled list. Greene talks about his difficulties:

"It was difficult to concentrate, difficult to sustain my energy level. All my energy was wasted trying to control myself. Just trying to get myself to function, to be able to stay in the game and not be thinking so much what I'm thinking. It's just a battle to be relaxed. I'm trying to battle that and find a way to come to terms with that, trying to find those coping mechanisms."

Mia Hamm

Photo: Getty / Jason Kempin

Mia Hamm is known as the best female soccer player in history. American-born Mia won the FIFA world player of the year award in 2001 and 2002 and played for the United States National soccer team for 17 years before retiring to start a family. As a child Mia moved often with her family and found herself shy and withdrawn:

“I was this shy, introverted kid and through the game and through athletics I was able to gain a lot more confidence and express myself on the field. It is about enjoying themselves and that's what I could tell about all of these girls. They played hard, respected the game and just had fun doing it.”

Nick Diaz

MMA fighting
Wikimedia Commons

Nick Diaz is an Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter who was suspended for one year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) in early 2012 for failing a drug screening test after UFC 143; marijuana was found in his system.

Rumors have swirled that Diaz may suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD) and use marijuana to self-medicate; he admits that he was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, was put on the prescription medication Ritalin, and found marijunana a more acceptable alternative as an adult. Diaz has generally been unpredictable in media appearances appearing either shy or scattered in his speech.

Ricky Williams

Dan Thornberg / EyeEm/Getty Images

Ricky Williams is a professional football player with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (SAD). At one point during his career, Ricky was too afraid to even leave his house; he dreaded going to the grocery store or anywhere that a fan might recognize him. Before publicly announcing his illness, Ricky was considered aloof and strange by the media because he would avoid fans and do interviews with his helmet on. Ricky received both medication and therapy for SAD.

Ricky had the following to say about his social anxiety:

"I've never been a really outgoing person, but I was never afraid to go out and have a good time. When I was [drafted to] New Orleans, it got to the point where I didn't want to leave my house. I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to go to the grocery store. I didn't go out on dates. Occasionally, I'd go to dinner, but that was probably the extent of it."

Susie O'Neill

Female swimmer
Photo: Getty / Darren England

Susie O'Neill is an Australian Olympic Swimmer and Gold Medalist who has publicly discussed her struggles with social anxiety and shyness. O'Neil told Australian Women's Weekly in 1998 that she was afraid of winning because of the need to stand on the podium and become the center of attention. Team events also frightened her because of her fear of speaking to strangers. Despite her shy nature, she was dubbed the "quiet assassin" because of her fierce competitive spirit.

Gerry Collins, ABC Commentator had the following to say about Susie:

"Susie was always very shy and very quiet. But the one thing that you could see in her was this incredible competitive spirit. She wasn’t the champion who would, sort of struts along the pool so to speak. She just seemed like a normal person and I think people loved that."

Zack Greinke

Man throwing a ball
Getty / Kevork Djansezian

Zack Greinke is a Professional Baseball Player who has battled social anxiety disorder (SAD) and depression during his career as a pitcher. Greinke took seven months off during 2006 to receive treatment from a sports psychologist. Despite the obstacles he has faced during his career, Greinke made a huge comeback winning the Cy Young Award in 2009.

From Dayton Moore, the Kansas City Royals General Manager:

“I can’t speak to this because I’ve never experienced it, but I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to recognize his condition and evaluate it honestly and do something about it,” Moore said. “He’s been able to take all of those experiences and combine them and that’s why he is where he is today.”


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Curry J. Greinke has been perfect, but he's trying to do better. The New York Times. May 29th, 2012.

Dr. Social Anxiety Disorder With Ricky Williams. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

Eagle E. Tigers place Willis, Zumaya on DL. MLB. Accessed May 8, 2009.

Fletcher J. Khalil Greene describes his anxiety. Fanhouse. Accessed May 29, 2009.

Go Yankees. Joe DiMaggio. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

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Posnanski J. Zack Greinke is in total control. Sports Illustrated. May 29th, 2012.

SB Nation. Nick Diaz Suspended for One Year, Must Forfeit 30 percent of UFC 143 Purse. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

Sports Illustrated. The Secret Life of Mia Hamm. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

The Herald Sun. Fitting reward for classy Madame. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

Yahoo! Lifestyle: New Idea. Susie O'Neill: Life after the pool. Accessed May 29th, 2012.

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