An interesting footnote to the recent NBA playoff matchup between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was that the series featured two players who have unintentionally emerged as mental health ambassadors for the league. It began during All-Star weekend in February, when Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan elicited widespread media attention for a cryptic seven-word tweet about his depression. Inspired by the candidness of his fellow hooper, Cleveland’s Kevin Love subsequently published a personal essay on the Player’s Tribune about suffering a mid-game panic attack. The article went viral, and Love received thousands of emails in response. The NBA, perhaps feeling the pressure to issue a response of its own, recently announced that it would be creating a new position for a director of mental health and wellness. The recent focus on psychological well-being feels like a welcome change of tack for the league.
One might wonder, however, why it’s still a big deal when two professional basketball players open up about an issue that affects millions of people in a country reputed to have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world. Mental illness, it seems, is ubiquitous in America. But among the nation’s sporting elite, the subject still feels like a repressed secret. more