CHICAGO — Four years after stepping away from the baseball diamond for the last time, Ben Zobrist has found his new mission in sports.
For the former Cubs utility player and Eureka, Illinois native, this step in his journey is all about the mind.
“Mental health was something that was near and dear to my heart after going through a couple of periods of depression during my career,” said Zobrist to WGN News Now this week. “Thinking there’s got to be more resources out there and more things to talk about for young athletes.”
That’s why he’s started Champion Forward, a non-profit organization helping players, caretakers, and coaches find the best ways to prioritize mental health in sports. It’s a way in which to keep athlete’s minds in the right place as they look to find success in their activity of choice.
“As we studied that and thought about the young competitors, we really began to notice that to really help the young competitors the most, we really have to work with the caretakers of those competitors and the coaches that are coaching them,” said Zobrist of his reasons for creating Champion Forward in 2023. “Ultimately we decided that we had to address really the sports culture in those three groups of people primarily and deal not just with mental health, but obviously the performance.
“That was something that I was really passionate about on the field, winning and finding a way to do what you do out there well, but also how are you trying transition into being a normal human being after trying to be a hero all the time. That’s where it was born.”
It’s the biggest venture after baseball for Zobrist after his 14-year career came to an end in 2019, including his last four as a member of the Cubs. He helped the team to three playoff appearances in that time along with the 2016 championship in which he was the World Series MVP.
Reaching that goal is in its early stages as the organization launched in late August and early September. It had begun with a mix of in-person and virtual events, like the one on Wednesday in which Zobrist is partnering with Honest Game for a Zoom session to discuss the relationship between sports, academics, and mental health.
In the early going, Zobrist says the organization has three main principles – awareness, balance, and connection.
“Really trying to inspire athletes, the players, and the coaches to start doing their own work and we’re also educating them on how they do that,” said Zobrist of Champion Forward. “We just want to be a supplement to all the other things that are making them great on the field, but there’s a big transition to not just on the field but off the field.”
Larry Hawley spoke with Zobrist about Champion Forward on WGN News Now, and you can watch that in the video above.