Raptors' DeRozan is inspiring others to speak up about mental illness

Mar 8 2018, 1:37 am

It’s difficult to imagine a set of people who exude more confidence and appear more put together than professional athletes, after all, sports are as much a mental competition as they are a physical one and appearing like a solid wall is an asset in itself.

It was surprising, therefore, when Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan tweeted this out last month:

Beside being a lyric from a Kevin Gates song it was a moment of vulnerability from one of the most formidable players in the NBA that helped push forward a growing conversation about the normalization of mental illness.

While there were a few who criticized the 28-year-old, this is the internet after all, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s not nothing I’m against or ashamed of,” DeRozan told the Toronto Star. “Now, at my age, I understand how many people go through it. Even if it’s just somebody can look at it like, ‘He goes through it and he’s still out there being successful and doing this,’ I’m OK with that.”

His decision to let people into that part of his life had an immediate effect, with the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love publishing an essay in The Players’ Tribune titled, “Everyone is Going Through Something” where he shared his own experience with mental illness.

In the essay, 29-year-old Love described an anxiety attack that overcame him during a game against the Hawks on November 5.

“When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk.

“I ran back to the locker room. I was running from room to room, like I was looking for something I couldn’t find. Really I was just hoping my heart would stop racing. 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.”

Since that game, Love realized he couldn’t go through this alone and has since been seeing a therapist, an idea he admits he once scoffed at.

Part of the reason Love decided to write the essay were because of the comments made by DeRozan a few days earlier.

“I’ve played against DeMar for years, but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything,” Love wrote.

After Tuesday’s win against the Atlanta Hawks, DeRozan was asked what he thought about Love’s contribution to the conversation.

“It made me feel great, that was the whole intent of me speaking out,” DeRozan told reporters. “I understand that it’s hard to step up and do a thing like that, so if I had to be the sacrificial lamb to open that gate to make everyone else feel comfortable to share their stories and help the next person, then that’s what it’s all about.”

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