Since when does turf toe become more important than mental health?
As Kevin Love took the time to spell out his experiences with panic attacks, he set the sporting world ablaze with a new awareness of something that has likely been happening to athletes and the general populace at large, yet seemingly goes unnoticed - or worse yet - ignored.
What is a panic attack exactly?
It is an episode of intense fear or apprehension that is of sudden onset. A sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. It triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
They may be accompanied by palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and numbness. There may be a fear of losing control or chest pain.
Panic attacks themselves are not dangerous physically.
Tell that to Kevin Love. To Royce White. Hell, tell that to me.
The first time I experienced one was about three years ago. When you don’t know about panic attacks, that they are even a thing, and you experience one for the first time out of nowhere, it’s easy to think you’re having a heart attack.
And I can’t speak to Kevin Love’s first-ever panic attack or anyone else’s for that matter, but when I experienced mine and my son was with me, all I thought about were two things - (1) I don’t want my son to see me go through this and/or die in front of my son, but (2) I was damn glad he was there at my side and be the steadying focal point that got me through it and convinced me to go to the hospital and see just what the hell was going on with my body.
It’s often said that worrying won’t stop the bad things from happening, it only stops you from enjoying the good. Easier quoted than done, however.
People that experience this variant of mental illness - yes, I said it - mental illness are unable to process a simple quote like that because of their genetical makeup that causes them to have illness like anxiety, depression, ADHD/ADD, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, eating disorders, and yes, seasonal affective disorder.
Society as a whole tends to avoid the term ‘mental illness’ because of political correctness. Instead they say ‘mental health.’ But there’s a marked difference and it often gets lost in the avoidance of calling it what it truly is - an illness.
So let’s take a breather and look at the difference between the two:
Mental Health (ˈmen-tᵊl \ ˈhelth): the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also : the general condition of one's mental and emotional state.
Mental Illness (ˈmen-tᵊl \ ˈil-nəs): any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.
That’s about as stark a difference as there is between a torn ACL, plantar fasciitis, and turf toe.
Plantar Fasciitis (ˈplan-tər \ ‘fa-shē-ˈī-təs): inflammation of the dense fibrous band of tissue of the sole of the foot that is marked especially by heel or arch pain.
Turf Toe (‘tərf \ ˈtō): a minor but painful usually sports-related injury typically involving hyperextension of the big toe that results in spraining or tearing of the ligaments at the joint between the metatarsal and basal phalanx.
Yet most athletes get a free pass when it comes to a sprained toe or finger - two to five games ‘rest’ - than they do if they experience any of the aforementioned forms of mental illness.
That befuddles me.
Especially as someone who experiences panic attacks and manic depression.
So I turned to Dr. Travis Heath, a professor in the psychology department at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado to shed some light on why professional coaches, GMs, and owners seemingly turn a blind eye to this issue.
“It seems to me the NBA wants to feel like they’re doing something, so most the teams are connected in some ways with psychologists, but it’s kind of an informal thing,” said Heath.
We discussed how quickly a team physician is on the case when an athlete is injured, and it’s possible that teams have a team psychologist on hand. But a lot of times, those doctors are mostly utilized to help young men transition from high school or a year of college to major league sports like the NBA. Other specialists to help young athletes go from being poor and middle class to having millions of dollars at their disposal, and how to avoid the gold diggers and ‘new friends’ that come with that lifestyle.
Yet we all know how well that hasn’t worked for many an athlete, who can have millions upon millions and then end up in bankruptcy. Just ask people like Latrell Sprewell, Vince Young, Kenny Anderson, Sheryl Swoopes, or even Scottie Pippen who blew over $120 million in career earnings and was forced into bankruptcy.
Each has their own story, and each likely was surrounded by advisors and counselors who arguably were a part of that gold digging bunch they were warning against - at $300-500 an hour.
So what about putting your client first? Agents and advisors are rarely in it for the long haul like that.
As I’ve been in NBA arenas for the past 17 years, I’ve rarely seen those people there putting in the hours. You know who does? The trainers, like Aaron Nelson in Phoenix with the Suns. I watched that guy work miracles on Amar’e Stoudemire’s knee, among others.
The team physician? In. Out. Here’s the bill.
“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.
Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of
us at some point or another.” ―Kevin Love
And then there’s Royce White, arguably one of the best talents to come out of the NCAA via Iowa State. Sadly, many will never know of his talent because White was seemingly and inexplicably swept under the rug due to mental health issues.
Even the last three words of that last sentence sound like a negative connotation.
Only negative because of how it was handled.
White had anxiety over flying in an airplane. Many people not named Royce White experience that same thing every day. But those people didn’t sign an NBA contract and aren’t subject to ‘doing what they’re told to do,’ which is how White’s situation was perceived from the outside.
White was a first round pick (No. 16) of the Houston Rockets. He missed the first week of training camp due to this issue. After negotiation and consultation, the Rockets allowed White to travel by bus when it was feasible to assuage his anxiety over flying.
But White’s frustration wasn’t just with the airplanes. It was bigger than that. How could NBA officials address mental health issues when they weren’t even understanding them? Not trained to deal with issues like White’s.
How does that affect Kevin Love? Or Serena Williams? Wide receiver Brandon Marshall? Or the WNBA’s Imani Boyette, who has experienced similar issues along with self-harm.
“You feel like because you’re not happy — when you should be happy — that you’re hurting people around you and a burden,” she said in a Huffington Post interview. “What people don’t realize about suicide is that it’s like you’re brainwashed. None of my attempts made sense, but it feels like the perfect answer to make the pain stop in the moment. You think it will all be better if you can just disappear.”
I’ve certainly gone through many of the emotions that these big names have.
I am nobody. I don’t have a stage like Imani Boyette. Or Kevin Love. Or Dr. Travis Heath.
But one major professional sport has taken the lead, a lead others in the NBA and other professional sports leagues should sorely consider if they haven’t already.
“Major League Baseball is already ahead of the curve,” noted Dr. Heath. “They have a place on disabled lists for players with mental health issues. They’ve had it for a few years now. Dontrelle Willis has gone on it with anxiety and I think the NBA ought to try to take a page out of that book.
“The NBA is following the path of society at large, I think. There are some great mental health professionals out there. It’s just getting the organizations to use them as part of their staff.”
The NBA has something on their side today that should begin to shed the light on this subject that it surely needs - Commissioner Adam Silver.
Though Silver was Commissioner at the White endured his frustrations, the NBA’s big boss has shown himself to be a very compassionate individual and has done something few professional athletic commissioners do.
Silver evolves to do what is best for the sport. He embraces the change that is necessary for a professional league like the NBA to keep moving forward.
“Yeah, I’m a huge fan of his, to be honest with you,” said Heath, a clinical psychologist himself. “It takes time, of course, to see policies change. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see (this addressed) in the next couple of years. He’s been on top of all the issues he’s needed to be on top of, and I think he’s going to be on top of this issue.”
What happened on January 20, 2018 in Oklahoma City, only Kevin Love knows. He knows what caused him to leave the game just three minutes into it. Only he and God know. You could speculate back spasms or migraines, but those are symptoms of panic attacks. He did not specifically point to that incident in OKC in his article, but those who know know that it was a panic attack.
What occurred afterward, in my opinion, is inexcusable.
In the team meeting that followed that 148-124 blowout, players outwardly accused Love of faking things. Fast forward to the video snippet last week of LeBron James having a heated discussion ‘at,’ not ‘with’ head coach Tyronn Lue on the Cavaliers bench and we may be seeing a culture in Cleveland that causes coaches to step aside and star players to consider leaving.
If so, it’s coming from the top down. That’s where change has to come from. Where understanding has to come from. Where compassion has to come from.
In Cleveland, it’s Dan Gilbert. Good luck.
In the league, it’s Commissioner Silver … and I believe he’ll lead the way in a way no one else will on this.
To his credit, once Love came forth with his Players Tribune article, LeBron James certainly showed one of his best moments of leadership as a player, teammate, and human being when he tweeted out this affirmation of love and support:
You’re even more powerful now than ever before @kevinlove!!! Salute and respect brother! ✊🏾💪🏾🙏🏾 https://twitter.com/kevinlove/status/971007457773400064 …
12:01 PM - Mar 6, 2018
That’s where it starts. Love, who’d been a target of criticism in the locker room and in the public via social media may have just found that in the end, it’s bigger than basketball.
Something he’s known all along, but just got the endorsement from the biggest name in the game.
The ball is now in Commissioner Silver’s court. Hopefully, he can follow LeBron’s leadership in understanding and compassion, and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to get through our own adversities, to find someone who gets us, and have them help spread the message about how great we are as individuals …
Royce White has moved on to the NBL Canada’s London Lightning. He finished the season recording four triple doubles. The Lightning won their third NBL title with White on the team. He re-signed with the Lightning for 2017-18. (Most NBL teams travel by bus - most of the time).
Love? Well, he dropped 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, four assists and shot four of six from the arc last night up north against the East-leading Raptors. He looked good, and if he continues like that, Love very well may be the key cog in the Cavaliers returning to the NBA Finals this June.
No pressure there, fellow Oregonian.
Whether we score 132 and take down the top team in the East, leave 148 on the table in Oklahoma City, or are simply trying to put five solid citizens into this crazy, screwed up world we live in, it ought to be as Kevin Love said:
“What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.”
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