Brandon Saho's game plan for taking 'The Mental Game' national
Former WLWT-TV sports reporter Brandon Saho launches his podcast Nov. 1 with pro athletes, Hollywood stars, musicians and media personalities talking about mental health.
Last spring, the lack of sleep was no laughing matter for Brandon Saho, before the depressed and suicidal sports reporter took a mental health break from WLWT-TV.
Now he can joke about it.
Refreshed and renewed, Saho quit WLWT-TV in August to launch The Mental Game, a podcast interviewing sports, entertainment and media celebrities about mental health.
His opening lineup includes comedian Dane Cook; actor Kate Flannery from The Office; former NFL running back Ricky Williams and Browns lineman Joe Thomas; the Grammy-nominated Eli Young Band; Thursday Night Football sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung; rapper Cal Scruby; singer-songwriter Marc E. Bassy; and ESPN anchor Jay Harris.
The first episode drops Nov. 1 with Bengals linebacker Sam Hubbard on YouTube and most podcast platforms. He plans to release new episodes at 8 p.m. every Tuesday.
Saho, a LaSalle High School (2011) and University of Cincinnati (2015) graduate, has been very public about his "15-year battle with depression … fighting for my life with myself" as he ramps up promotion for The Mental Game.
"From the outside you saw a sports reporter who was living his dream job on TV. But on the inside, I was a broken man. For years I thought of jumping off a bridge, crashing my own car, or just drinking and drinking until I felt nothing," Saho says.
He hit rock bottom after three family members died within three months, and "the woman I thought was the love of my life broke up with me," he says.
"That's when the thoughts of suicide came back. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. I couldn't take my sadness and pain any more. And I was ready to go," he says. He wrote a goodbye letter, told his mother he loved her, took a handful of pills and prayed to God not to wake up.
But he did. So he checked himself into a mental health hospital as soon as he could. After therapy, treatment, classes and medicine, he began to feel "the happiest I've ever felt," he says.
The "light bulb moment" for Saho, who played football for the LaSalle Lancers, came during a discussion group at the Lindner Center for Hope last spring.
"I said, 'I've always cried. I've always been emotional. I'm a wimp.' And my instructor said, 'That's the problem.' That's the stigma around mental health. We talk negatively about it, or we don't talk about it at all. I grew up as a kid that if you're hurt, you play through it — 'rub some dirt on it and get back out there!' — and get through what you're struggling with, instead of getting help like going to therapy or talking about it."
Saho left Channel 5 hoping for a normal life,a 9-to-5 job after working nights and weekends since UC. He joined Chatterbox Sports, the Hamilton-based company which covers Greater Cincinnati prep athletes, and began working on his mental health podcast, which is also a YouTube video show. He uses his skills from being a TV journalist — arranging interviews; setting up several cameras and microphones; asking questions; and editing the recordings.
But there's one big difference.
"Now it's no longer a 1-1/2 or a two-minute story, it's an open-ended conversation where people can tell their story for 20 or 30 minutes. That's really cool," he says.
"I'm doing all my own shooting, editing and graphic design. It's crazy, I know, but it's fun. I don't sleep any more, but I know it's all going to be worth it. I joke about not sleeping now, but it's a good thing," says Saho, Chatterbox Sports director of strategy.
Last winter he would be up to 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. drinking, sad and miserable. "Now I can't wait to get out of bed and start editing a podcast episode. I've got about the same amount of sleep as before. It's just nice to be doing something that brings my two passions together — sports and mental health."
Saho drove seven hours to Wisconsin to speak with Thomas, the former Browns left tackle who talked candidly about enduring 10 consecutive losing seasons in Cleveland in his 11-year career.
"That's when I knew this was going to work," Saho says.
He's making cold calls coast to coast to potential guests and possible sponsors before heading to Los Angeles soon to tape interviews. Once he asked a Hollywood agency if any of its clients one would be interested in coming on his show, and two hours later he was told that comedian Dane Cook would speak to him.
"He's got a lot of things about mental health he'd like to talk about," Saho was told. "If that's happening already, what might happen if another comedian sees that?"
When Saho first announced The Mental Game, I figured he would concentrate on Cincinnati people, such as WCPO-TV reporter Jake Ryle, who took a much-publicized mental health break a year ago. Saho does have a few Cincinnati guests — Xavier basketball coach Sean Miller, Fraley and Hubbard — but he's definitely shooting for the stars.
"I'm not afraid to be told no. I've been really lucky that some of these big names have told me yes," he says.
"With the crazy year I had, I wanted to help anyone I could to not feel the way I did, being suicidal and depressed all the time, and checking myself into a mental hospital. I want to make sure I reach as many people as possible."
Find The Mental Game on YouTube, or where ever you get your podcasts. Saho came be contacted through his @BrandonSaho and @MentalGamePods social media pages.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.