A graphic for a "Peace of Mind" special coming to E:60. A graphic for a “Peace of Mind” special coming to E:60. (ESPN.)

There’s been a lot of discussion around athletes and psychedelics recently. For years, several former pro athletes have been talking about psychedelics as alternative treatment for long-lasting concussion/head trauma effects and more, and that was even featured on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in 2020. Other former athletes have also discussed that recently, including Mike Tyson, and, last summer, Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers became one of the first active athletes to admit psychedelic use, discussing his use of ayahuasca.

There was talk the NFL might punish Rodgers for that. But they didn’t, and he’ll now actually be speaking at a “Psychedelic Science 2023” conference this June. And now, ESPN’s E:60 is doing a full “Peace of Mind” special on former athletes at a retreat in Jamaica, with that retreat involving psychedelic “magic mushrooms.” That feature will premiere Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern on linear ESPN, and will be available afterwards on ESPN+. Here’s a trailer they released Wednesday:

Here’s more on that Blake Coeman produced-and-directed special from a release:

One of the biggest advocates for the potential of psychedelic compounds is retired NHL player Riley Cote. In four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Cote scored only one goal, but he was involved in more than 50 fights. There was damage and pain, physical and mental. And now, Cote, who credits psychedelic therapy for helping to combat the mental health struggles he has been facing for years, wants to help other athletes who are facing similar battles.

ESPN’s E60 was given unfettered access to follow Cote and a small group of retired professional athletes as they participated in an intensive week-long retreat in Jamaica involving the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms. The athletes came hoping to address issues ranging from anxiety to depression to PTSD. By the end of the therapeutic retreat, each athlete left feeling hopeful, several for the first time in years.

Reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg looks into the history of psychedelics in the United States as well as the pros and cons of the drugs as medical treatments – and what impact they may have not just on athletes, but everyone.

It’s interesting to see Van Valkenburg as the reporter here, as he actually left ESPN (after 11 years) this February to become editorial director at golf site No Laying Up. But there’s often a long pipeline from shooting to air for feature or special content, so that’s probably what happened there. And this certainly sounds like a notable special: in addition to Cote, it features former athletes Mike Lee (boxing), Steve Downie (NHL), and Justin Renfrow (NFL and CFL), plus many prominent scientists. (These are different athletes from the ones Real Sports featured in 2020, so that speaks to the growing acceptance of psychedelics in the retired athlete community, to say nothing of their increased popularity with current athletes like Rodgers.)

Another notable part of this is that in addition to the special itself, this story will be featured across ESPN platforms this weekend and beyond. There’s a longform written piece from Van Valkenburg on this coming to ESPN.com around this airing, and the story will be explored on the ESPN Daily podcast Friday. An excerpt from this will also be featured in the OTL on SC segment on the noon Eastern edition of SportsCenter Friday, and the full special will re-air across ESPN platforms after its initial airing, as well as being available on demand on ESPN+. So that’s a lot of coverage for ESPN to give this still relatively controversial topic, and it will be interesting to see how their coverage of it is perceived.

[ESPN Press Room]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.