Greatest Hits: A Teachable Moment

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It never once crossed my mind that when Delonte West was signed by the Dallas Mavericks, he would find himself in a position to meet with the President of the United States. While I know the President has historically always met with championship winning teams, I never really paid attention to the whole thing and always assumed it happened shortly after winning said championship and not months down the line (what can I say, I live in Cleveland, it hasn’t really been something that’s ever been on my radar). When the Mavericks do make their visit to the White House, some key members of that championship team will be missing, namely Tyson Chandler, Deshawn Stevenson and J.J.Barea as they are no longer with the Mavericks. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom will be tagging along despite having been swept by the Mavericks and Vince Carter will be in attendance despite being Vince Carter. The one current Maverick not being invited along? Delonte West.

Everyone knows about Delonte West’s run-in with the law. Despite professional athletes constantly making the news due to weapon charges, very few do so while on a motor-tricycle with guns stored in guitar cases like in a Robert Rodriguez movie. Given Delonte’s enigmatic nature, his inherit charm and charisma and the bizarre details of the case, the story went viral and even people who have no interest in the NBA whatsoever know Delonte’s name and what he did. Of course there were jokes made at Delonte’s expense, the story was just too bizarre and funny to not become a running joke that forever become a part of the Delonte West mythos.

bipolar disorder and the problems it caused him on and off the court. He was the subject of a phenomenal SLAM online piece where he detailed why the gun charge happened. Suddenly, the seemingly one-dimensional joker looked a whole lot more like a complex, complicated man dealing with a very real, very serious medical condition. Problem is, no one seems to care.

Historically, the treatment for those with mental illness in the United States has been appalling. Instead of receiving treatment designed to improve their quality of public life, they were institutionalized and locked away in asylums, isolated from the general public. When they became difficult to treat, they were subjected to cruel and unusual treatment methods which served little to no medical purpose outside of making them more docile for doctors to be around. They were less than human, and our collective solution to their problems was to put them out of sight and out of mind.

We supposedly live in a more tolerant age. Institutional reforms have done away with many of the horrors inflicted upon the mentally ill in asylum, yet the medication forced upon many with mental conditions can be just as debilitating. While today’s mentally ill may not have their frontal lobe separated surgically, their medications will prevent them from feeling any of the emotions that make us human. As a result, many struggle with their medication, having to choose between not suffering from the symptoms of their condition and feeling anything at all. If they come out publicly about their disorder, they often find that others begin to treat them differently, as if it’s only a matter of time before their medication stops working and their symptoms return.

And I’ve experienced this first hand. One of my closest friends in college had obsessive-compulsive disorder and was on medication to repress his ticks. For the first three years that I knew him, I had no idea that he had this condition as the medication prevented any symptoms from occurring. However, during our Senior Year, he began to adjust the dosage of his medication, as it made him feel numb to the world. He described being on his medication as being in a fog which kept him from seeing or experiencing any of the highs or lows one feels in life. Eventually he found a balance that worked for him, where he could feel emotions while the worst of his ticks were still repressed. His doctor’s response to this self-adjustment? Telling him to take the prescribed dosage regardless of the side-effects.

Even today, many facing mentally illness are treated to primarily make those around them comfortable first, and to increase their own quality of life second. In my friends case, his doctor wasn’t concerned with his patient not being able to express emotions such as love, but rather that he would rub salt in his hands prior to eating. He wasn’t concerned with a flat, emotionless twenty-year old about to graduate college and enter the real world, he was concerned that he could only use a paper napkin once and then require a clean one. Thankfully for my friend, he was able to find a different doctor that cared, had a professional adjust his dosage and was able to go on to get a job training to become a diplomat. That’s right, a guy with obsessive-compulsive disorder is on his way to becoming someone who represents the United States on an international stage. With compassionate care, one suffering from mental illness can do just about anything, presuming they can get the proper care and treatment.

That brings us back to Delonte West. Since this incident and his revelation that he has bipolar disorder, Delonte has been relegated to coming off the bench, despite being a starting quality point guard. When the rest of the Cavaliers quit against the Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Delonte fought on despite the end being in sight. His reward? Being shipped off to Minnesota, promptly getting bought out and then getting signed to a one-year “we’re taking a risk here” contract with his former team, the Celtics. When the Heat steamrolled the Celtics the following year, Delonte was the only man on the court wearing green that seemed to care. His reward for sticking with his former team until the bitter end? Having his contract not picked up, despite the only other player in his position being Keyon Dooling. He then gets picked up by the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. To a league minimum, two year contract.

Despite being one of the hardest working players in the NBA, teams are afraid of Delonte. Despite not getting in any legal problems since the gun incident, he’s only able to get short-term contracts and the league minimum “just in case”. Despite being open about his condition and the problems it may cause, Delonte is treated as a liability and a problem just waiting to happen. Sure, he will occasionally take to Twitter and stir up a mess, but so do many professional athletes. Some that come to mind instantly: LeBron JamesRashard Mendenhall and Samardo Samuels. The solution? Write some social media guidelines into his contract if they’re so worried about him affecting their brand. Yes, he might snap at a reporter every now and then in the locker room, but how difficult would it be to restrict media access to him when he’s in a depressive period or forbid media members from bring up his disorder/gun charges? Where Delonte has been up front with his condition and how it affects him behind the scenes, teams seem to prefer to avoid him entirely instead of putting in the work involved to accommodate his needs.

misdemeanor gun charges that occurred two years ago. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has been to the White House multiple times despite being accused of rape and being a known adulterer, Scot Pollard was invited despite telling kids to do drugs on television (yes, Scot Pollard is an NBA champion), and Jason Kidd willbe there despite having plead guilty to beating his wife. Oh yeah, and if he would have stayed with the team, Deshawn Stevenson would have been there despite getting two underage girls, one 14 and one 15, drunk and having group-sex with them in a sleazy motel room. Apparently having a known, treatable mental illness and receiving psychiatric counseling is worse than statutory rape, domestic abuse, endorsing drug use and cheating on your wife/potentially forcing yourself upon women.

For a President that has prided himself on seizing teachable moments and having grown-up, mature conversations with Americans about issues such as race, this is a horrible missed opportunity. Inviting Delonte along could have opened up a dialogue about the stigma and prejudice that those who suffer with mental illness face in this country. Instead, a teachable moment is being missed, and a man who has already suffered so much because of his condition is being publicly humiliated and ostracized yet again.

When Ron Artest pushed the Lakers over the top to win the 2010 NBA Finals, he famously thanked his psychiatrist Sandy after the game, which lead to plenty of mocking and articles about how crazy Ron Artest is for thanking his therapist. But why is this funny, worth mocking or crazy? If she helped Ron Artest find a way to live with his condition and lead his team to a championship, why shouldn’t she be thanked? If the majority of Americans, including a supposedly transcendent President, prefer to bury their head in the sand when the issue of mental illness comes up, who should be thanked for helping those with mental illness live with their condition?

4 thoughts on “Greatest Hits: A Teachable Moment

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