In Part One of the series, I highlighted the stigma affecting black athletes. The perception that once black men make it professional, they have embarked on endless prosperity. The newfound fame and currency are supposed to suffice for the issues suffered previously and to come. The misconception with black athletes in America has become a media magnet. Along with the advent of social media and smartphones, the spotlight never ceases.
Black athletes find themselves stuck in a catch twenty-two. The predicament of living in a country where the more money they make, the more their voices go unheard. The age-old narrative is these athletes make millions. What do they have to worry about? Most, if not all, of these athletes, suffer from years of underlying and unaddressed issues. There is no escape from that reality.
The possibility of a better life and a new environment motivate these athletes’ professional aspirations. Unfortunately, as cliché as it sounds when they defy the odds and achieve the inconceivable, they realize the grass is not greener. Currency does not eliminate the problem; it only magnifies it. Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon are prime examples. Unaddressed problems are enabled and swept under the rug on the road to achieving stardom. Whether it is addiction trauma or other underlying issues, there are countless occurrences where the demons resurface in their professional careers.
Many sports fans from the outside looking in see athletes get arrested or make repeated mistakes and jump to criticism. The notions are often ridicule and confusion, how could an individual with so much waste their opportunities away? When a person is suffering from years of mental instability, it is not cut and dry. The situation is no different from an everyday addict losing their job and family due to the sickness; the difference with these men is they are making millions in the spotlight. Many know the tragic fall of Antonio Brown, but if you take a closer look, you will find out that he was a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. The gift that propelled him to reach the heights only people could dream of also contributed to his downfall.
Brown grew up in Liberty City, Florida, the same hometown of fellow NFL star Chad Johnson formerly known as Chad OchoCinco. During Antonio’s young years, he grew up in a poverty-stricken household. At the age of ten, his biological parents separated, leaving him to reside with his mother. Brown’s mother remarried in 2000. The rift between her new husband and Brown ran its course, leading to him being forced to leave the house. Antonio was homeless for six months on the street. Right away, you see the numerous unaddressed problems Brown faced in his youth. What stands out is abandonment, as well as authority issues. Brown was never in a stable environment with parents or guardians he respected, or that respected him for that matter. Subconsciously Antonio grew up into figure he despised, a man of infidelity and numerous demons creating an unstable environment for his children. The tragic issues of Brown’s upbringing snowballed into the multiple problems he had within the locker room and off the field, as we all know.
The average fan’s vantage point does not allow them to view athletes anything aside from tools for entertainment. The envy and disdain some fans have at the salaries professional athletes make while they work a 9-5 shuns their empathy. The lack of compassion leaves the athletes even more secluded and unwilling to correspond with the public.
Another example of athletes being prisoners of success is two of the most despised men in the NBA, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Both men walk the tight rope of being inmates in their minds. The struggle of not being able to voice your opinion without resounding criticism is another example of black men not being allowed free speech if they make it professional. The perception is when athletes make it, their voice will be heard, but when they reach the league, it is quite the opposite. The currency comes equipped with a proverbial muzzle. Instead of speaking on struggles as individuals or generations of racial inequality in the country in which they reside. These men learn they too are expected to shut up and dribble.
Recently Irving was harshly ridiculed for entertaining the idea of players not returning for the 2019-2020 season. On a June conference call with fellow NBA players discussing the situation in the league. Irving expressed his defiance of the return to Orlando due to the climate of racial injustices of black people in America being at the forefront. Irving’s sentiment was the opportunity was too valuable to waste on basketball, and it would draw attention away from the issue at hand. Irving has been known to be a free thinker with many questionable quotes during the years in the media. From his flat earth comments to the passive-aggressive messages to his young teammates in Boston. In addition to his frequent mood swings and left filed rhetoric, it makes it relatively easy for people to be dismissive, even when he is sincere. In July, Irving put his money where his mouth was and donated $1.5 million to WNBA players who are sitting out the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.
On February 17th of 2018, Demar DeRozan of the then Toronto Raptors tweeted, “This depression get the best of me..” To many, it came as a surprise as DeRozan had been the franchise player and perennial all-star for years in Toronto. In an interview with The Star DeRozan addressed the comments stating, “Its one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, were all human at the end of the day.” It was clear that DeRozan had been suffering in silence for quite some time. This had been a reoccurring issue in DeRozan’s life, dating back to his childhood in Compton, California. Growing up experiencing several of his family members suffer to gang violence, DeRozan found solace on the court. As the reoccurring pattern goes, the emotions DeRozan buried as a young man continued to rear their head as he reached the heights of success. His courage to speak out was the first step in the NBA, raising awareness of the mental health issue with professional athletes. The same year fellow all-star Kevin Love and the rookie Trae Young spoke out about their struggles with mental health. The players’ courageousness ended up leading to the NBA Players Association funding the independently ran mental-wellness program.
As many young black males in America continue pursuing professional sports, they mustn’t bury their emotions in a brief career. These are men before anything, not even the sneakers of success can outrun a troublesome mental state. We all must encourage our black brothers and normalize the conversation of mental health in the black community just as we discuss our favorite team’s performance or check Box Scores of our beloved stars. The plight of our people should be just as common. If we do not shift the culture, then our efforts will be in vain.