NEW YORK – Two nights ago, on a humid afternoon in midtown Manhattan, Tamika Tremaglio, executive director of the NBPA, took the microphone in the organization’s Sixth Avenue office and read a letter from Jerry West. The basketball legend recounted some of the traumas of his youth and the mental health issues he faced throughout his career and later in his life. He suffered in silence until he felt comfortable enough to seek help. Now, he was advocating the benefit of being open.
For a long time, discussing mental health was taboo in society and certainly in professional sports. Over the past decade, it seems as if that has slowly been stripped away, fueled, in part, by the raw honesty of NBA stars. DeMar DeRozan’s openness about his struggle with depression and Kevin Love’s admission that he suffered a panic attack during a game, both five years ago, were a catalyst. He created a permissions structure so that professional athletes and the fans who watched them could more easily discuss and deal with their issues.
Mental health remains a priority for NBA players and an issue they have focused on. That commitment was made clear Wednesday, when the players union held its inaugural summit on mental health and well-being. It was a reiteration of his priority to the players. The event, led by Dr. William D. Parham, director of the union’s mental health and wellness program, brought together NBA commissioner Adam Silver for a fireside chat with Tremaglio and Cynthia Germanotta, director of the Born This Foundation Way, and an open meeting. Discussion by Victor Oladipo and CJ McCollum on the importance of mental health.
Tremaglio said the summit was created out of the union’s executive committee’s desire to keep the issue at the forefront not only of the players but of others as well. It has been a priority for the committee for several years, he said.
“They wanted to make sure we were still a voice talking about it and what it meant,” Tremaglio said. “And as we approach this new season, it was really important that we talk about it now so that people can start telling their stories and feel comfortable doing so as the season begins.”
The event, held over two days this week, wasn’t just for NBA players; only a few were seen there on Wednesday. Her goal was to help others talk about mental health and listen to the experts. McCollum, the union president, said he hoped he could help make it easier to talk about mental health, not just in the league, and overcome the reluctance to do so.
“I think it’s more about our communities; the communities that many of us come from,” McCollum said. “Black communities have historically been hesitant (and most communities have been hesitant historically) to talk to people about their issues in general from a point of comfort. But I think a lot of people are doing it and a lot of people are talking about it and little by little more professional athletes are starting to talk about the fact that they are seeking help and that it has been helpful and beneficial to their lifestyle and their career. and what they want to achieve on and off the court.
“But I think there is an increase in the number of people not only talking about it (hence today’s conversation) but also using it. You just don’t hear about it that often, do you? You hear stories here or there, but then if you ask in the locker room, you know that more guys are doing it now (and) they feel more comfortable sharing.”
McCollum admitted overnight that there is still some hesitancy on the part of players to talk about their mental health with each other, but he believes that is slowly dissipating. He speaks to a therapist and has been a strong advocate for seeking help outposts. For him, those discussions are a sounding board for how to handle the various pressures of his life.
The biggest tensions, he said, are not the game itself but everything that surrounds it. There is the uncertainty that comes with injuries (when the sport suddenly disappears) or when there is a trade or the very public nature of the job. And there is the uniqueness of his position.
Often, as in their case, they said, no one else in their family or social circle has experienced the kind of wealth and success they have, and there is no one to talk to about the problems that come with it. That only increased the need to find someone who can help.
“I think it’s extremely important because we go through all these emotions from the game and from our lives that sometimes we don’t know how to deal with them,” he said. “Whether you are the first generation of millionaires (some of us are the first generation of millionaires) or you are the first generation to graduate from college, whatever the case may be, I am a professional athlete. No one has experienced that before, so they don’t know what it entails. So who do you talk to about your problems, if no one can relate to them?
“I think that sometimes your thoughts are correct, sometimes they are not, and being able to talk to a professional gives you advice, but it can also be a roadmap or a guide so that those feelings you feel are okay. , they are acceptable, accept them as they are and then figure out how to move on. They can also be a sounding board for finding ways to handle things that happen in your life.”
The NBPA also has procedures to help players. There is a mental health team that is available to players when they need someone to talk to.
Tremaglio calls it a triage team. It is led by Parham, but also includes Michael Grinnell, the NBPA’s player welfare counselor, and Derek Anderson, the former NBA veteran who is now the union’s player welfare counselor. They are available to talk to players or help them find someone who can help them.
The goal of the summit, McCollum said, was to bring these issues to light and talk publicly with those who can, not only with the players but also with their communities.
“It’s become more acceptable,” he said. “It has become more noticeable in terms of people, players and high-profile figures speaking out about things that they are struggling with that people perhaps weren’t aware of before. I think the narrative aspect is great because it allows people to better understand that this is happening to a lot of people and that it’s okay to seek help and want help.”
(Top photo by CJ McCollum: Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
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