By Kellen Bulger
A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star released an article that detailed four-time NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan’s troubles with depression and anxiety. “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day. We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
DeRozan’s comments were heard round the NBA and as a result, fellow notable NBA players Kevin Love and Kelly Oubre came out attesting to their own mental health struggles. Each player had a message that made the point clear that they are not only celebrities, but are humans as well. And who is really to blame these players, when their entire lives they’re asked to achieve superhuman feats on a nightly basis and shelf their feelings and thoughts because that’s “not their place to speak”.
In my senior year of high school, I was one of the better distance runners in Eastern Washington. The previous spring I ran some fast times on the track and was ready to build off of this and get the attention of not only my peers and coach, but hopefully DI and DII colleges alike. This didn’t happen. Without divulging every minute detail of my own personal demons, I finally crumbled, cracked, broke down – whatever defeating verb you’d like to use – under the weight of my own responsibilities. This manifested itself in me missing multiple races my senior cross-country season and having a disappointing season for myself… at best.
When rumours of my own mental health issues spread around, instead of having others check-in to see how I was doing, the narrative that got pushed around was that I was depressed because of my poor athletics performances. And while I certainly recognize that NBA players have unbelievably larger amounts of surmounted pressure on them, their narrative follows a similar path to mine.
People exclaim that the person in question is “soft”. They claim they are making excuses for a lack of success in their performances. DeRozan’s situation is no different. If you look at the comment threads scattered around various online fan forums, DeRozan’s mental health issues are said to be “mere excuses” for never taking the Raptors to a NBA Finals.
I’m not saying that the sports world is unique in its issues with accepting mental illness, but I am saying that it is exasperated because of the distinct culture that surrounds the American sports scene.
In a world of fantasy football and where professional sports franchises are cornerstones of many cities respective economies, it’s simply not acceptable to many that a Kevin Love for example, doesn’t perform to his best ability on a night because he’s been feeling sad lately. That’s a reality we have to accept though. Instead of making an assumption about an athlete’s character because we couldn’t vicariously live through their successes for a given game or season, we have to think with more nuance. If we really would like to think that we have moved on as a society from the days where archaic mistreatment of players was common ground, like current Washington State football coach Mike Leach locking his Texas Tech football players in a shed for multiple hours as punishment for what he saw as “faking concussions”— then we can’t be angered when Derrick Rose of the Minnesota Timberwolves or Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park each take a leave of absence in the midst of their athletic seasons for personal health reasons.
We do not train professional or amatuer athletes on how to be exceptional when dealing with their emotions and/or feelings, yet we ask them to do such. They are paid and glorified for their ability to harness their body’s athletic ability in a professional setting for a specific purpose. And beyond that, being a support for them is the bare minimum of what we can/should do as a society.
So, next time someone on your intramural badminton team doesn’t show up for the biggest match of the season or your favorite NBA player misses three crucial games towards the end of the season, treat it with deference and the realization that mental health has touched every bit of our society in the modern-era.