Royce White is perhaps the most famous recent example of how professional sports is not yet equipped to put players with special mental health requirements in the best positions to succeed.
White was a standout for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, but had difficulty transitioning to the professional game for a variety of reasons.
Here’s a breakdown from August, via SB Nation’s Rockets blog The Dream Shake:
College Royce White was so good because not only was he usually the biggest guy on the floor, but he was also usually the best ball-handler and passer. There were times where he looked like a young Charles Barkley (which I swear is a good thing and nothing like the current TNT Charles Barkley).
That kind of build with that kind of skill set is so rare, but there is a reason he dropped to the 16th pick. In fact, a lot of smart people expected him to drop farther.
Royce White suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder, and this meant that he had trouble with flying and with other triggers. After some turmoil, and frankly some mishandling by the Rockets’ front office, Royce’s NBA career began to fade away before it could ever take shape.
White has resurfaced playing ball in…Canada? Yes, Canada, playing for the London Lightning of the NBL, Canada’s top professional league.
And White made his presence felt in other ways, too:
White expressed thoughts this summer that his advocacy for mental health awareness has kept him from returning to the NBA:
Do you feel mental health is more on the radar for NBA teams now than it was when you were drafted?
RW: I think mental health has been on the radar long before I ever came around. Athletes discussing it openly, making the topic increasingly harder to ignore is definitely a reality. Teams are run as a business, players are treated like commodities. Unless creativity is implemented to maintain proper attitude and practice, players’ wellness will always be at odds with the nature of sports industry. Granted the same can be said for most industries.
If you were in charge of dealing with this issue in the NBA, what would be your first measure?
RW: I would start by admitting that something needed to be done. Then I would assemble the best minds in comprehensive health to help build a policy that could give the entire league, not just the players, a real chance at getting the proper support.
That’s a reasonable point of view, and at a certain point in time, the NBA and other professional leagues are going to have to realize that associating a mental health condition with a weakness is not the most effective way to handle things.
Hopefully White can continue to ball out in Canada.