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Most NBA fans have some sort of an opinion about the issue with Royce White’s situation with the Houston Rockets. Most people should know about it because what the league and media has done to the guy is shameful and bigoted.

Yeah, you can be bigoted against people with disorders that don’t allow them to do a lot of the same things that other people can’t do. Most of these same people would feel bad if they had, for example, made fun of a blind man or someone in a wheelchair. An anxiety disorder is something that is really hard to live with, and unless things work out perfectly, it affects the course of your entire life. It doesn’t “go away”. Medication has severe unwanted side effects…it can make you mentally sluggish, confused, tired, and other things that can equally make you non-effective at your particular career choice. I tried medication, and as a software engineer that has to amp his brain with 32 ounces of coffee a day, those meds would have probably caused me to lose any job I’ve held. Not a good tradeoff just to treat something that ostensibly, I wouldn’t have to deal with every day. You know, like a job.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder twice…once early in college, once about 3 years after I started my career. I knew at the time that there would be certain things that I wouldn’t be effective at as a result of it. Anxiety disorders are different for most people…for some folks, like Mr. White (and I’m just guessing how he feels based on how I feel when I’m in those situations that cause problems), the thought of flying (or driving in my case) starts working its way into your head. You kind of get sucked down a trail of concerns, all you can visualize are the many ways you will die…it’s always different but it’s always the same in a way. That’s why it’s a diagnosable mental disorder. There are many classifiable and distinct characteristics. There are types of medication and everything…it’s not a “make-believe” disorder like so many sports talking heads and sportswriters are implying.

Mine happens almost always when I’m driving. Mainly, it’s when I am driving in high elevations, near water, or in fast moving, dense traffic. Most people get a little nervous in those situations. I, on the other hand, cannot picture myself doing anything but driving off a cliff or watching another car change lanes and crash into me. Or drive into the ocean and drown because I can’t get the door open due to water pressure. I deal with it by singing very loudly…or with a steady stream of expletives to drown out those worries. I do it because I make myself do it, but afterward, all I want to do is collapse for 6 hours. When I have the type of nightmares that make me wake up in a sweat, it’s because I’m driving along a sheer cliff along the ocean and can’t slow down and stop. As a result, I chose a career where I don’t have to do any driving, and I chose to live walking distance to where I work. I live in a town that doesn’t have severe traffic problems and has a LOT of mass transit options. For me, problem solved. You don’t want someone on the road who is imagining you crashing into his car and freaks out every time you swerve, believe me. I can drive quite well and comfortable in quiet rural areas; even in parts of downtown where I’m pretty familiar and we’re all taking it slow. It’s pretty particular to certain things and I’ve had that panic in those situations since I first started driving.

I can only imagine what would happen to an NBA player who had to do the same thing…but then go just a couple hours later and play as physically demanding a game as basketball against some of the most talented players in the world…only to then do it all again the next day. There’s no way I would be able to be anywhere near my best if I did that. I don’t blame Mr. White for basically putting his NBA career on hold…I’m sure there would be a way to work around his anxiety if the team made the effort. Even if he exclusively played home games, that would mean he’d play what, 41 games a year? That’s about as many as most bench players play. Most NBA players are bench players. I’m sure there would be quite a few he could take the train to as well…Texas is pretty well centrally located.

However, if the NBA doesn’t want to work around those problems, then by all means, he shouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t be able to perform at the level that would make him worth his salary. He wouldn’t stick around the league no matter how talented the guy is (and everyone who follows Big-10 Basketball knows exactly how talented he is). First round draft picks fail to make it in the league every year due to injuries. A psychological problem is exactly like an injury. It’s one where you can play through it, but you have to have team management that is willing to help you play through it. Sometimes guys wear protective goggles, protective vests, wrist guards…working around a psychological issue is the same deal. Unfortunately, NBA coaches, management, and trainers aren’t quite as progressive as they are in other businesses where they pride themselves on making work accessible for people with disabilities. It seems that either you work really well, exactly as they want, or you go away. The salaries are supposed to be incentive enough…but that’s not enough. You know that even if you make a big pot of money, if you can’t perform, you’re not going to keep making that money anyway. You might as well get a head start on a new career if you know you won’t be able to keep making that NBA money. If you have a broken leg, and your coach tells you that you have to do wind sprints or you’re off the team…and the doctor is telling you that if you comply, your leg will never heal right and you’ll walk with a limp for the rest of your life…what do you do?

The thing that everyone who has criticized the guy should be ashamed of, however, is that they’re basically mocking him for having a psychological disorder. They probably wouldn’t mock a guy who blew out his knee and couldn’t get his career started because he got hurt the “acceptable” way. Even if the team that drafted him knew full well that he had knee problems to begin with and drafted him anyway…then put a huge workload on him in training camp. That’s happened many times. The Rockets and everyone else knew that Royce had generalized anxiety disorder. Apparently, they decided not to look it up on wikipedia. Note the part about it being “uncontrollable”. And the part that it can only be diagnosed if it exists past 6 months. Everyone knew Royce had those problems back when he played for the Gophers. He then went on to play lights-out for Iowa for a year. That’s a lot longer than 6 months. This isn’t a put on by the guy, he’s not holding out for playing time, wanting to be traded, trying to make more money. It’s a real serious problem for the guy and anyone who implies anything else needs to sit their butt down and read that wikipedia page I linked. You don’t joke around with that disorder. It’s not like the A-Team and Mr. T where they had to drug his orange juice…it doesn’t work that way nor are the effects of those drugs reliable either. That was just a TV show.

Anyway, I’ve been following Royce’s career since his year with the Gophers because as a grade schooler, I lived on the U of M campus. I went to a LOT of Gophers games at The Barn…it was almost a weekly thing for 3 years and I’m still a fan. When I heard about the guy’s anxiety, I kind of hoped that maybe, finally, someone with a good shot at being famous could help people without this disorder understand those of us who have it. I’ve lived a long time being called weird for my reaction to those situations…you better believe I don’t like being treated that way and I don’t forget or forgive those slights. Even when you joke around, I still hate your guts for that because it’s deeply personal. Mr. White has been doing what he can to try and explain his problems to the media and the public, and a lot of people just won’t have it because they’d rather stay bigoted against people who have this disorder. They’d rather continue to be ignorant and misunderstand and mistreat people who live with this.

I think they’re too personally enthralled with the idea of having at least one more group of people to kick when they’re down. I can’t ask them to be well like Royce does…all I can do is call them out and shame them for being bullies. It seems to me most of the time that serious “red butt” is the only thing they can comprehend. I wouldn’t wish anxiety disorder on anyone. It’s embarrassing when you know you’re acting exactly the opposite of how you wish you could act and you can’t stop it. It’s humiliating. It makes you angry at yourself. And then people around you who don’t want to understand just pile it on and make it worse. It’s driven plenty of people to suicide, plenty to drugs and addiction. For me, it drives me to intense outward rage and the only way I can hold it back is to think about my dog, my family…then keep myself from getting sent to jail.

Be nice to Royce. Doesn’t matter how you feel about whether or not he could have helped your favorite basketball team. He’s trying to do something good for people like me who need it instead of making a lot of money playing a game to amuse you because you want it. And I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near as courteous and professional to the haters as he has been.

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