During national tragedies, we always look to sports, even when sports had nothing to do with the tragedy. This happened on Sept. 11. It has occurred during wars and natural disasters. And it's happening now.

It's not just New York Giant Victor Cruz and his shoes and his visit to see the family of 6-year-old Newtown, Conn., shooting victim Jack Pinto, or all the names scrawled on Tennessee Titan Chris Johnson's shoes, or the moments of silence around NFL stadiums and the decals on players' helmets.

It's also the beginning of a national conversation.

There is more than one serious conversation going on after the terrible Connecticut shootings: we're talking about guns, violence, school security, mental health.

We know why and where these conversations started. But where they end, at least on one of these topics, can help be determined by a sports world that should continue to be more forthcoming in dealing with that issue itself.

It used to be that almost no one talked publicly about the serious issue of mental health. But last week, the most decorated skier in U.S. history, Lindsey Vonn, announced in People magazine that she has suffered from depression for years, but says it is now under control.

Houston Rockets first-round draft choice Royce White has talked about his fear of flying due to an anxiety disorder, an issue that has led to disciplinary problems for him in high school and college, and controversy with the Rockets now.

Former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw revealed her struggle with despair, including a 2004 nervous breakdown and a 2006 suicide attempt, in her recent autobiography. Last month, sadly, she was arrested for smashing the windows and firing a shot into a friend's car. No one was injured and Holdsclaw is out on bond.

And pitcher Zack Greinke suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression six years ago when he played for the Kansas City Royals, missing almost an entire season. Just this month, he signed a six-year contract guaranteed at $147 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"When a successful athlete comes forward, I've certainly heard from many other athletes and other people in general that it's a very positive thing," Sean McCann, the U.S. Olympic Committee's Senior Sport Psychologist, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "There's a sense, a stigma, that a mental issue is associated with a lack of strength. Obviously, a successful athlete has tremendous mental strength and so when he or she comes forward, it's helpful for many people."

Vonn, 28, told People that depression, which runs in her family, surfaced after her 2002 Olympic debut in Salt Lake City amid her parents' marital problems. She currently takes an anti-depressant to manage her symptoms, she said.

"Everything about my life seemed so perfect to people," she said. "But I struggle like everyone else."

At one point in 2008, she said, "I couldn't get out of bed anymore. I felt hopeless, empty, like a zombie."

"Here are the role models, these people that we think have it all together, and they have times in their lives where you have difficulties in dealing with things," said Kenneth Ravizza, a sports psychology consultant who teaches in the kinesiology department at Cal State Fullerton. "I think that's the biggest thing they can provide especially in an environment where those issues are generally viewed as a weakness, a flaw in one's character, and if we can start breaking that mold, I think it's going to be critical. I think they really can serve in the lead in doing that."

Not that this is going to be easy, in sports or in our culture. Said McCann, "We don't necessarily know when these issues are going on because there's a tendency to kind of keep this stuff under wraps."

And when it does come out into the open, especially in sports, how many times have we rolled our eyes at the pampered athlete, complaining again?

If it's treated as an issue affecting performance, then it might be more acceptable to discuss, McCann said.

"If you're down, if you're anxious, it interferes with performance, so let's deal with those things," he said. "That normalizes it, it doesn't mythologize it. That's one way to start breaking down those doors."

There's no doubt that issues of mental health in sports don't get nearly as much attention as physical injuries do. We're focused on concussions and the all-important ACL, not what we perceive as someone's moods.

But like other things in our nation this week, it's time for that to change.

"I'm realistically hopeful," McCann said. "When we can have positive role models talking about the importance of this stuff, it provides a little bit of an umbrella for others to come out there and talk about it too. And the more that we can talk about it, the easier it gets."