Last week we shared a blog post written by NBA star Kevin Love publicly
discussing his struggles with anxiety. More sports figures are coming
forward to discuss these issues which is the best way to break down the
walls of stigma. MHANYS is proud to be partnering with our colleagues at
Project 375, founded by NFL star, Brandon Marshall and his wife Michi,
around anti-stigma efforts. More specifics about the partnership will be
highlighted in the coming weeks.

How NBA Stars Destigmatize Mental Health

Jerry Barca, CONTRIBUTOR Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own

Kevin Love told his mental health story.

The Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward had a panic attack during a game
against the Atlanta Hawks. After a stoppage in play, Love told his coach he
couldn’t go in the game. His heart raced. He fled to the locker room.

“It was like my body was trying to say to me, *You’re about to die. I
ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get
enough air to breathe,” Love wrote in a story for *The Players’ Tribune.

Shortly after the incident, Love started seeing a therapist. It’s something
he never thought would happen. “When I was two or three years into the
league, a friend asked me why NBA players didn’t see therapists. I scoffed
at the idea. *No way any of us is gonna talk to someone*,” he wrote*.*

Now, players are talking and by doing so they’re making it easier for
others to open up about mental health. Love wrote his story after reading
about DeMar DeRozan’s depression.

Toronto Raptors guard gave a glimpse into his mental health with a tweet
during All-Star weekend. From the outside looking in, that weekend
should’ve been a celebratory homecoming. DeRozan went to Compton High
School. He played his one year of college ball at the University of
Southern California. That weekend he laced up his sneakers as one of the
best basketball players in the world. Instead of expressing triumph and
joy, at about 3 a.m. local time, he wrote, “This depression get the best of

In a subsequent interview with The Toronto Star, DeRozan opened up
about the tweet. He knows what star athletes look like to
the public. They’re heroes, success stories with wealth. Unless the public
is told otherwise, these stars are immune to any mental health issues. The
truth is different. “It gets the best of you, where times everything in the
whole world’s on top of you,” DeRozan said.

After Love and DeRozan’s experiences became news, Washington Wizards
forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said he could relate to them. “I’m really good at
keeping a poker face because when I was growing up my dad used to always
tell 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
said on the Washington Wizards Tipoff podcast.

While there has been this recent flurry of action, mental health issues for
athletes are not new. In 2009, Cincinnati Reds All-Star Joey Votto opened
up about dealing with depression. Decorated Olympic champion Michael Phelps
has sought professional help. NBA legend Jerry West has dealt with lifelong

For years, NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been an outspoken advocate
for mental health.

Love knows he’s just beginning a journey of building mental strength. It’s
awkward, new and challenging. “I’m just starting to do the hard work of
getting to know myself,” he wrote.

Mental health isn’t commonly viewed this way, but it’s similar to a player
developing his offhand or better footwork. Athletes work on parts of their
game all the time. It’s strenuous, difficult work. It takes dedication.
Mental health requires that same approach, but unlike the physical parts of
the game the mental side doesn’t follow that routine.

One separating factor for Love, DeRozan and Oubre is their status in the
game. Love and DeRozan are All-Stars. The 22-year-old Oubre is in his third
NBA season, but he entered the league one-year removed from McDonald’s and
Parade all-American accolades. There are players who face mental health
issues, but they don’t have the status to talk about it. They fear that
talking about mental problems will make them look weak and unreliable. It’s
a liability instead of something to be addressed. When it comes to contract
time they worry their mental health will make them unemployable.

This can change. It should. About 1 in 5 adults in the United
States experience mental illness each year, according
to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That’s one starter on every NBA
team. That’s 20 percent of your family and your co-workers.

“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” Love wrote
multiple times for emphasis in The Players’ Tribune.

A stigma has been attached to mental health for too long. The openness from
Love, DeRozan and Oubre should begin to change that.

Jerry Barca is the author of two books, Big Blue Wrecking Crew and
Unbeatable. You can reach him @JBarca .

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