Mental Illness and Professional Sports
Professional sports are a warriors game. Players do whatever it takes to gain an advantage. There are those who physically intimidate, others who mentally agitate and some who do both to attempt to unsettle their opponent.
In the NBA, trash talk has been a part of the game for about as long as the game has been played. The game involves a level of direct one-on-one action in close spaces not seen in other sports. Growing up, I recall watching guys like Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan. These guys were known to use their tongue and their wit as a weapon in their game. In some cases, no subject was off-limit in what they would utilize to belittle and undermine their opponent. Stories of these guys calling their opponents ‘cancer-patient’ or ‘midget’ have surfaced with little indication they’re not true.
Fast forward to 2018. Trash talk is still a part of the game, but the game has changed. Last week, Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan mentioned in an interview that he struggles with depression. Inspired by DeRozan’s openness, Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love admitted that he left a game earlier this season due to on-court panic attacks. Both have been applauded for their self-disclosures by fellow players and fans alike.
In the past professional players would never admit weakness for fear it would be used against them. Today, mental illness and disorders are not seen as weaknesses but challenges to face. People take strength from hearing their heroes admit their challenges; much like the past generation did from seeing their heroes overcome physical challenges, like Jordan’s flu game in the 1997 playoffs.
This is a great change, a significant change. Sports can often display the best and worst of society. Today we are becoming increasingly aware that challenges such as depression are realities that we need to talk about, not shy away from. If you are facing challenges, pressures or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, whether that be a trusted friend of a professional. Seeking help is not a weakness, it’s a huge step of strength. If warriors like DeMar and Kevin can open up, so can you.