“Coast to Coast” is a column by Jarrod Castillo about basketball.
Being in the top 1% in the world of anything must be a good feeling, right?
Now imagine being in the top 1% in the world at a particular sport. Think of all the sacrifices you have made to get there, to be in front of thousands of adoring and jeering fans, either hoping for your success or failure.
Now imagine you never reach the latter scenario because your employer chooses to alienate you because of your mental illness. That’s what happened to former NBA player Royce White.
In 2012, White was drafted by the Houston Rockets and promptly told the front office that his anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder prevented him from doing certain things such as flying on planes.
Additionally, former NBA player Keyon Dooling wrote in the Players Tribune in 2018 how mental health is still very much taboo to talk about, not just in the NBA, but everywhere else. Dooling wrote that there is a culture of suppressing mental struggles everywhere in society.
“We just internalize it. We become hard. We spend our whole lives running from the ghost. Until one day, it catches up to us,” Dooling said in the piece. “I can speak from personal experience that all the alcohol and all the women and all the money in the world will not solve the problem.”
That said, when a particular athlete suffers a physical injury, fans are typically more accepting of that and understand that it’s part of the game they love.
Take Derrick Rose for example. As the youngest MVP in league history, Rose took the NBA world by storm, carrying the Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 before losing to the Miami Heat. That was the furthest he would go; Rose underwent multiple knee surgeries, sapping him of his once-legendary explosiveness in following seasons.
Through all the physical injuries, fans came to his support, showing their adoration to the former MVP as he worked his way back to the court. Although the outpouring of support for Rose is admirable, it begs the question: what about when a player is dealing with a mental illness?
Mental health and mental illness is a tricky topic to discuss because it’s one that not many people know too much about. There’s also the fact that there’s immense stigma when it comes to talking about mental health in general, like Dooling said.
That stigma is greatly magnified with athletes because they are told to “suck it up” and “keep it inside” for fear that they may be seen as weak by an opponent that’s looking for any advantage. Plus, athletes are known to be perfectionists, so anything less than perceived perfection is unacceptable.
Bryant also said that if a young athlete starts to question their own mental wellness, they are told to keep it bottled up inside because it’s seen as a “weakness.” He finishes by saying that he hopes to see more athletes speak up about their own mental health, which is what Ohio State’s D.J. Carton is doing.
Carton, a standout freshman, is taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with his mental health. In a statement, Carton noted that he has been dealing with mental health issues “for a couple years” and that he will return to the team when he feels that his mental health is in a better spot.
Fans were more than accepting of Carton’s decision to take time away from sports to work on his mental health, and that’s how it should be. Athletes should not be afraid to talk about their mental health, regardless of who they are and what sport they play.
Mental health is just as important as physical health because a player can’t perform if they aren’t mentally healthy. That is why talking about mental health shouldn’t be seen as taboo; rather athletes should be applauded for being able to admit that they need help, much like Carton, DeRozan and Love.
The first steps to a new understanding of mental health in sports have been taken and the journey to remove that stigma is underway.
“Coast to Coast" runs every other Friday.