In The Scope: Much Needed Mental Illness Discussion Opens In The NBA

“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is  a weekly column from the Managing Editor of WARR 

Recently, Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan, Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love and Washington Wizards rising star Kelly Oubre have all opened up on their struggles with mental illness and depression, creating an unexpected social movement across the NBA.

This is not a previously untold story in basketball, but it is a serious issue that we should continuously look into regarding the mental health of our professional and student athletes.

In recent interviews, DeRozan and Oubre used unique ways to discuss personal issues combined with life as a professional athlete, and Love followed suit in writing a letter to the Players’ Tribune talking about his personal experience with an in-game anxiety attack he suffered during the beginning of the season and the causes of it.

The common thread these three share are overcoming their personal desires of staying silent to open up on the everyday issues athletes across the world experience. Social norms usually keep men in the positions of these players from making public their personal issues, but these three NBA players changed the narrative in showing support for speaking on mental health. Oubre praised DeRozen for his efforts and giving him an opportunity to follow suit after a childhood where he was taught to not look weak during times of trouble.

“I’m really good at keeping a poker face because when I was growing up my dad always told me ‘don’t let anybody see you weak.’ Nobody sees that I’m weak, but deep down inside I am going through a lot. Hell is turning over,” Oubre told Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.

Recent social justice movements have helped highlight the importance of athletes speaking out on mental illness, and history continuously shows us why. NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau suffered from CTE, a common brain disorder and long-term effect current and former football players received from their physical tenures in the league. The condition has helped spur suicide attempts among former league players like Terry Long and Andre Waters.

Ron Artest has discussed experiencing mental illness since he was a child and visiting with psychiatrists and marriage counselors throughout his time in college and the pros to turn his life around. Jerry West, the logo of the NBA, went through mental illness, depression and low self-esteem and detailed it in a memoir. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was experiencing depression after being arrested for a second DUI and locked himself in his room for four days contemplating taking his own life during one of his many successful tenures in the Olympics.

“I didn’t want to be alive,” Phelps told USA Today Sports. “I didn’t want to see anyone else. I didn’t want to see another day.”

Former Cleveland Cavalier Delonte West was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2012, similar conditions have justified the behavior of other former NBA players like Lamar Odom and Royce White.

Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend over relationship issues and eventually committed suicide in front of the coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs with whom he played, stating before pulling the trigger he had major problems and claimed he could not get enough help to solve it. “I have hurt my girl already and I can’t go back now.”

Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center conducted a thorough analysis of 202 brains donated from former football players whose careers ranged from high school to the NFL in 2017. 177 of the brains (87 percent), including 110 of 111 NFL players, had a positive CTE diagnosis, reported by the American Psychiatric Association.

According to Bill Johnson II of the Huffington Post, a 2015 study of depression amongst current and former collegiate athletes showed 17 percent endorsed symptoms consistent with depression. Amongst professional athletes, associated with author Alfie Potts Harmer, it was as many as 25 percent.

Roughly 44 million Americans experienced some form of mental illness in 2015 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), which nearly one in five people aged 18 or over according to estimates by the National Institute of Mental Health.

I praise DeRozen, Love and Oubre for their efforts in re-opening the discussion of mental illness within the NBA and across the world. It is time for the NBA and other associating professional leagues to make sure the athletes get the proper mental care they desperately need.

Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio

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