Mental Illness A Reality in Sports

Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young is the latest athlete allegedlly battling mental illness. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young is the latest athlete allegedlly battling mental illness. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young is the latest athlete allegedlly battling mental illness. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Sports mirror our society. The games and athletes we love so much to watch are nothing more than a mere reflection of who we are in this nation and the rest of the world.

There is the good, the bad and the ugly. At times, we ask our athletes to go up and beyond the call of duty that we ourselves wouldn’t do otherwise.

Good sportsmanship is basic civility in the normal workplace. A day trader on Wall Street isn’t guided by the same principals to shake hands with his or her rival after a tough day at the office.

On the flip side of the coin, athletes are trained and hammered with brainwashing hypocrisy from a young age to adulthood to like the person who is a direct threat to their livelihood.

The athlete is a different creature. He or she is treated like demigods on their high school and college campuses and in the professional ranks. We build the athlete up only to later to tear them down.

We worship and praise them in one breath, then vilify and ridicule them in the next. We especially condemn athletes when they act out or do something we deem to be stupidly outlandish or what we perceive to be selfish in nature.

Odd behavior and doing things outside the boundary of rules and the law is not limited to athletes. Society is full of people getting liquored up and driving under the influence.

There are plenty of people who are not athletes committing petty theft every day. Domestic violence and sexual assaults just doesn’t take place in the homes or a dorm room of a pro or college athlete. As we have seen, those incidents can take place within our own military or law enforcement departments.

Racism and homophobia take place in all walks of life as it does in sports, so it should not be a surprise that the issue of mental health engulfs the lives of some athletes as well.

The recent backlash surrounding the unfortunate series of events that former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young found himself in is a prime example of this.

When news broke that Young had been arrested twice in the same day and then taken into custody a third time within that same week, the first reaction by many was that another spoiled knucklehead bites the dust.

After careful consideration and leaks about his so-called state of mind by family members, the issue of mental illness is once again hitting the athletic world like a beanstalk going into the clouds.

We’ve seen this picture before in regards to an athlete suffering from the mind-game demons that only God or professional psychological help can address.

Mental illness, however, is still waiting its turn on the social order list before society, fans and sports leagues fully embrace the severity of this life-altering disability and try to bring more awareness to it. Athletes are people. They need help just like you and I.

Metta World Peace has been an outspoken advocate in bringing attention to mental illness. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Metta World Peace has been an outspoken advocate in bringing attention to mental illness. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

But because of the glare of the media spotlight, the money they make, the oftentimes proud machismo and perhaps the shame or stigma of being labeled with having a mental illness, it is locked away in a secret closet, quietly eating away and destroying that athlete.

Engaging in destructive behavior is one trait that traps the mentally ill. I know this personally because I lived with my father. My dad, who passed away in 2005, could be the nicest man you’ll ever meet. Then at the flip of a switch he could rain down terror and fear.

One of his rages ended up with him beating me one day to the point that I couldn’t dress for my physical education class for two weeks when I was a junior high school student. That’s how long the scars from that beating lasted.

People who knew my family would often make jokes and say that my father was crazy. Well, his so-called craziness took me to the brink of suicide as a teenager and left me an emotionally scarred adult.

It was not until right before he passed away that I fully understood that my father was a troubled soul as he dealt with being bipolar and suffered bouts of schizophrenia. Mental illness has affected me in another way.

A close relative of mine lost his life when an emotionally-deranged individual decided one day to empty the chambers of his gun into his chest as he began his day at work. It is a day I can see as clear as this column I am writing.

According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 59.2 million people here in the United States went to the emergency room, saw a doctor and showed up at a hospital outpatient department with mental health problems.

The survey adds that 34,364 suicides were committed.

Mental health is a very serious problem. And just like cancer, heart disease and other ailments such as HIV/AIDS, mental illness, as it relates to the general society, has to be tackled in the same way.

Athletes such as basketball start Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers, brings attention to the disability by openly talking about his mental problems.  He is not alone.

Former heavyweight boxing champion “Iron” Mike Tyson suffers from mental illness. Then there is Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who deals with a borderline personality disorder. Rickey Williams, one of the NFL’s great running backs, has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.

This issue isn’t limited to the football field. It was found that NBA player Delonte West suffers bipolar disorder after being arrested while riding with two handguns and a shotgun when he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So standing back and throwing stones at Young isn’t what this young man needs.

What he needs is help. Playing football is no longer at the top of the to-do list. Saving his life is a lot more important.  Now is the not time to blow smoke.

It’s time to stop skirting the issue. We must deal with it or else we’ll just keep watching this rerun play itself out. Hopelly, it won’t be too late. For years, people stood by and did next to nothing to aid and assist Tyson with his well-documented maladies.

As a result, Tyson almost destroyed himself and everything around him. Hopefully that won’t be the case with Young.

 

 

 

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1167 Articles

Dennis covers the NFL (Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a proud alum of Howard University.