Sports world slow to address players’ mental health

Photo by Charles Hallman Royce White

Second in a series

Royce White still hasn’t gotten full credit for pushing the NBA to recognize the importance of its players’ mental health and wellness.

Channing Frye, Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan “came out” in 2018 with their mental health problems and were universally hailed for doing so. John Lucas said that year in a five-part ESPN series that over 40% of NBA players have mental health issues, and this was not disputed by the league. Later, the NBA started a mental health program, named its director, and included in the new CBA mental wellness procedures to help players deal with mental health issues.

But years earlier White, who was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as a teenager, wanted Houston, who drafted him 16th overall in 2012, to put in his contract accommodations for his condition, including taking buses to road games rather than flying.

Related Story: Mental health treatment still stigmatized by some

GAD affects at least 3% of the U.S. population. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying, being overly concerned about a number of things, and finding it difficult to control such worrying. White has this condition as well as an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Instead of accommodating his needs, Houston told the St. Paul native he had to perform in order to dictate contract terms. He was later labeled a malcontent because he was scared to fly, and was out of the league nearly two years later.

After having signed a two-year rookie contract with Houston, he never played for the Rockets but later played for a total of 56 seconds with Sacramento in 2014. White did play a couple of years in the G-League, the National Basketball League of Canada, and was the first overall pick of the BIG3 summer league draft.

Now, athletes are speaking out on everything from depression to eating disorders. Treating mental disorders still isn’t like treating a knee injury or something that can easily be seen, but White was on the mental health soapbox long before it became fashionable to speak openly about it.

Black people are more likely not to talk to people who could help them because of an inherent mistrust of strangers. Pro athletes of both genders aren’t any different from most people when it comes to talking mental health, let alone about being called crazy.

“I think it is stigmatized in all communities, but not on the level it is in the African American community,” admitted mental health advocate Achea Redd, the wife of a former NBA player. She was featured in last week’s “View.”

“It becomes my business to tell my story,” said the 29-year-old White. He called for the NBA to deal with mental health and approach it with “common sense. What I told the NBA is that whether they like it or not, mental health faces all of us. I told them a genuine care…has to be realized for this issue to move forward.”

White also questions the league’s seriousness in this regard. “If the public wants to give the NBA credit for being progressive [about mental health], it is like saying the NFL has progressive race relations,” he said. “The reality is that the whole issue has been [forced] on them.

“Mental health has been forced on society because we have neglected it for too long, and the outcome is so unacceptable. We are in crisis mode.”