“The NBA has kept me out because the mental health conversation forced them to look in the mirror, and none of them want to,” White said.
In recent years, there has been more focus on the importance of mental health in professional sports. A lot of athletes have been more open than ever about living with anxiety and depression, but outspoken basketball player Royce White isn’t sure that the NBA is doing enough to help.
White was a first round draft pick in 2012. He wanted the NBA to have a mental health policy, and he wasn’t going to play until it happened. White says he was then cast out of the league, and as he told the New York Post, “It’s not hard to get blackballed from the NBA. For any number of things.” (White now plays for Big3, a league founded by rapper/actor Ice Cube.)
As White explained, “The NBA has kept me out because the mental health conversation forced them to look in the mirror, and none of them want to. And they don’t want to because they built an entire industry on fallacies and smoke and mirrors and circle jerks.”
White has dealt with anxiety and fear of flying, and he’s always been open about it. When he was drafted by the Houston Rockets, he immediately called out the NBA for not having a mental health policy.
“You have a drug abuse policy for players,” White says. “You have a list of banned substances—one of which, by the way, is benzodiazepines, which is one of the most prescribed drugs in America for anxiety. So you’re actually creating a boogie-man narrative around mental health.”
White adds, “Here I am, at 21 years old, and I’m having trouble seeing how I will be able to navigate this industry if there is a true ignorance around the mental health topic. And there was a true ignorance around it that has been admitted now and confirmed by the NBA.”
It’s All in The Approach
Some felt that White’s actions didn’t help his cause, and that he could have gotten more done if he approached the NBA in a different way.
“They literally told me, ‘Listen, you’re right about mental health. But if you don’t play, if you don’t play well, and if you don’t listen to us, no one is going to listen to you. We can control that. We have the platform, and without it you’re a nobody.’”
When White first started making noise, he felt he wasn’t taken seriously.
“Now that the mental health conversation has started to take its true shape, and people have got more information, everyone is starting to change their tune.”