Everyone loves a laughing stock.
The Washington Wizards are, once again, in the throes of an embarrassing start to their NBA season. Now accustomed to poking fun at the team, commentators, fans, and casual observers have launched their annual deriding, devoting full TV segments, creating websites, and sounding off on radio about the team’s misfortune.
It’s nothing new. The Los Angeles Clippers spent arguably more time than any other sports franchise as the NBA’s laughing stock. The Charlotte Bobcats set the new league record for futility, notching a paltry seven wins in a 66-game shortened season.
No one takes a bad team seriously. They become an easy target for the entire world.
But what about the players?
After last week’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats dropped the Wizards to 0-11 on the season, rookie Bradley Beal shared his feelings on the team’s unthinkable start.
“We just lost. Everybody hates losing. You just see the guys’ faces; it’s like depression. We haven’t won a game yet.”
Amidst the shame of being jeered in your own arena, there are athletes comprising these teams that must face the scrutiny of feeling responsible for losses. They must endure post-game interviews, the omnipresence of social media, and the heckling of fearless fans. Perhaps worse is the notion that professional athletes should simply deal with ridicule because of their salaries.
Annually, it is estimated that about 7% of the nation’s population will experience a depressive disorder. Of those who suffer these disorders, only about 20% will receive adequate treatment. Although adults seeking professional help for psychological issues has become more common over the last decade, it is still not widely accepted. This is especially true among minorities, where percentages of those receiving treatment is even lower.
For NBA rookies, the stigma is of greater concern, as lottery picks are, in most instances, experiencing the burden of losing for the first time in their lives. There is no amount of pre-season orientation or symposia that prepares an athlete for long losing streaks and the feeling of being prisoners in their new hometowns.
Delonte West, currently an NBA free agent, battled depression early in his career. During his 2008-2009 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, West took a nearly two week leave of absence from the team to receive professional treatment for his disorder.
Fortunately, West knew the symptoms of depression, having dealt with it his for most of his adult years. More importantly, West was unashamed to place his career on hold briefly to take care of his psychological condition.
During his treatment, West received support from not only his teammates, but also the Cavaliers’ management. West credits seeking help as enabling him to get back to enjoying basketball again.
Very recently, Houston Rockets rookie Royce White’s anxiety issues have prevented him from contributing to team this season. White has dealt with these issues as early as his teenage years, dealing with effects such as a fear of flying and panic attacks.
The Houston Rockets were well-aware of White’s anxiety issues, but did not let that deter the team from drafting him with the sixteenth overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft. Commenting recently on their selection, Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey remarked that White was, despite his disorder, “very functional”. The Rockets clearly believed White wouldn’t falter on the larger stage.
However, White’s contention with the Rockets’ lack of support for his anxiety grew and he took to Twitter, making pointed comments about the organization. The result was a very public look at the team and how they’ll resolve this unique issues and work to mend their relationship with White.
The work of an NBA athletic trainer is very clear, but a team’s commitment to monitoring the mental health of its players is not nearly as publicized.
With the advent of cases like West’s and White’s, hopefully teams are taking a closer look at the measures they have in place when such instances arise. Moreover, we can only hope, too, that players have the courage to speak up about needing treatment, especially when change from harsh circumstances does not seem to be on the horizon.