By Dennis J. Freeman
Los Angeles power forward Ron Artest has made his living as a professional basketball player for the past decade giving fans lots of reasons to cheer him. He is an NBA champion. He is a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been an All-Star. Now there are plenty of other reasons for fans to cheer the Queensbridge, New York native this holiday season.
In perhaps probably the most unselfish gesture a professional athlete can do, the 6-foot-7, 260 pound Artest is giving up the championship ring he earned last season to bring attention to mental health.
Artest began a raffle drawing process to bring more awareness to an issue that affects millions of people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million people have some sort of anxiety disorder, 14.8 million are afflicted with major depressive disorder and another 7.7 million folks suffer from post traumatic stress. Bipolar, suicide and schizophrenia are among other disorders that fall under the mental health umbrella.
The move by Artest to go public about this issue has been a positive one, one that many people have rallied around. Artest said he decided to go through the raffle process because putting on a silent auction for people to bid on would not have generated the same kind of buzz the public drawing has done. It turned out to be a great marketing and public relations strategy. As a result, Artest has taken the cause to the Larry King Live Show and other national media outlets.
Forget about the attention that will be paid to the lucky winner of the drawing, which also includes a two-night stay at the Four Season Hotel in Beverly Hills and prime time tickets to a Lakers game. The real winners are those fighting in the trenches to bring visibility to mental health.
“If I had done an auction, I felt like the auction would have been only been available to a couple of people, so the message would not have gotten out as much as I wanted to,” Artest told news4usonline.com. “These fans…you never know how it’s going to touch them, even if they give up $10 or maybe $20 for the raffle. You never know who is involved. You’ve got thousands of people knowing they are buying a dream, knowing the importance of mental health in America-not only in America-but all over the world.”
Mental health does not discriminate. Every ethnic group has been crippled by this issue, in one form or another. Minorities, in particular, have been hit harder than their white peers. According to the Office of Minority Health, African American men commit suicide five times greater than black women. Asian women have the highest suicide rate among all women who are 65 or older. Suicide attempts by Hispanic girls from grades 9-12, are 60% higher than Caucasian girls in the same age group.
Black boys, between ages 10-14, have a 233% higher rate of taking their lives than Caucasian boys, according to a report put out by the U.S. Surgeon General, which was reported on the Office of Minority Health website.
Artest recognizes the problem of mental health is an issue in urban communities that is often overlooked.
“In the black community or any ghetto, it is important that these kids growing up…if it is something they don’t want to be or [don’t understand] why they are going on the wrong path, you need somebody to communicate this or socialize with or talk with,” Artest said. “If it’s not one person, it has got to be somebody. It’s got to be somebody there that you can go and talk to so that the kids can have a stable future. I’m trying to open up people’s minds and eyes a little bit about the stigma.”
According to Artest, the raffle has drawn over a half-million dollars in pledges.