Sport is powerful. It is powerful in the way that it can engage people from widely diverse backgrounds and those who have been left behind. It can be a significant driving force for change and a motivator of progressive thinking.
The NBA has been a significant force in igniting change within a divided America.
Most recently, LeBron James has utilised his success to benefit those who have been left behind by a divided and segregated world with his I Promise School. Students get a free bicycle and helmet, free breakfast and lunch, free college fees, support for parents and financial support for those who graduate as they go into the future.Embed from Getty Images
In August, Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose launched a college scholarship program. It will award high school students financial support, allowing them to achieve their dreams and will provide a path to college that he said would “not previously be available to them.”
We could most definitely consider these NBA stars superheroes, fighting for a better future for the next generation and battling modern day societal imbalances.
Yet, whilst NBA stars have been at the forefront of societal change, they have also been part of a national conversation about mental health.
Therein lies the question: What about their own struggles, who is there for them?
The truth is, mental health support for athletes has been severely lacking – only recently coming to the forefront after Kevin Love discussed his anxiety and depression in an article published on the Players Tribune.
“People say, ‘what are you depressed about? You can buy anything you want’. I wish everyone in the world was rich so they would realise that money isn’t everything”
This issue stems from a toxic stigma attached to sports stars and athletes, many of whom earn millions of dollars a year as contracts continue to increase in value.
In a feature published by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, who first spoke to Love about his anxiety and depression, DeMar DeRozan opened up about his struggles with depression and reflected on how we perceive mental health. Highlighting the fact that it is relative to each and every one of us.
“People say, ‘what are you depressed about? You can buy anything you want’. I wish everyone in the world was rich so they would realise that money isn’t everything”, he said to MacMullan.
There is an evident issue in that society expects athletes to be unaffected by mental health issues because of their wealth – when in reality it is far more complex than this, and it is being felt throughout the entirety of the NBA.
Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce, more and more players are talking, but what is the NBA institution doing to solve this?
The NBA, including Commissioner Adam Silver, has expressed that it is committed to developing a proficient and effective mental health policy. The NBA’s players association (NBPA) has also appointed Dr William Parham, who will become the director of mental health and wellness, as reported by ESPN.
Yet, whilst steps are being taken to change the perception of mental health within the NBA and beyond, a document recently leaked outlining that some NBA owners are wanting to obtain the mental health history of its players.
This adds a controversial layer to the discussion, in that of privacy and also the potential negative effects of owners having access to such information.
As GQ’s Nathaniel Friedman put it, this could have a ‘similar long-term performance impact as a bad back or bum-knee.’
This contradicts the NBA’s detailing of a policy in which, by their words, “Fully supports protecting the confidentiality of players’ mental health information.”Embed from Getty Images
Cynically, following DeRozan’s comments, the contract costs and money may also be a significant influence in owners wanting access to mental health records – as some of them may see players as a material asset.
This issue can be seen across the entire sporting world, with competition and obsession with relentless tip-top performance leading to more and more problems for athletes. Doping is another prominent issue that comes to mind.
Combined with the stigma in that athletes need to be mentally resilient, publicly prominent and confident in a world arguably dominated by celebrity, this discussion about mental health in the NBA is a complex one.
The Houston Rockets assistant coach, John Lucas, expressed that the issue is an ‘epidemic’ in the league to ESPN. It is an issue that needs tackling, with the support of the NBA and of course, its fans.
The next time your team or a player makes a mistake, loses or walks off the court for an unknown reason – don’t ridicule them as thousands do every day on social media. Kevin Love has already highlighted the social media toxicity upon him leaving certain games midway through due to panic attacks.
Why not ask yourself; look at what they do in the game, look at what they do for their community, for greater society – and invest in accepting and understanding that they too have their own struggles.
Next time, why not Tweet them a few words of confidence, do your bit to suppress the toxic views about mental health that have dominated for too long.