Transparency, disclosure and the path toward healing: Kevin Love’s mental health journey

September 24, 2020

“It was like I was trying to achieve my way out of depression,” Kevin Love wrote in his latest contribution to the Player’s Tribune, a piece he titled: “To Anybody Going Through It.” This quote alone so accurately connects Love’s ongoing battle with mental health to his quite successful basketball career, juxtaposing the two seemingly contradictory modes of being. One might ask, how could a stand-out from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), five-time NBA All-Star, multi-year member of Team USA and NBA champion possibly be depressed, while at the same time, accomplish so much at such a high level? The decorated power forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers has spent the past few years trying to answer this question, becoming a pioneer in diminishing stigma along these lines for amateur and professional athletes alike.

In 2018, Love experienced his first public panic attack, during the middle of a game against the Atlanta Hawks. As he lay there in the training room feeling trapped, out of breath and unsure of just exactly what was happening to his body, Love was experiencing the physical aftershock of something more deeply rooted in the psychological suppression he had been building up for some time now. 

This event led to his first message in the Player’s Tribune surrounding this topic, a letter called, “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” In reflecting on his experience at that point in time, Love commented in this piece that, “it was a wake-up call, that moment. I’d thought the hardest part was over after I had the panic attack. It was the opposite. Now I was left wondering why it happened—and why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

That is the inner dilemma that other athletes like Love have continuously encountered, this notion that mental health and illness should be kept to oneself, especially those whose public persona relies on being depicted as so physically strong and capable. But, like Love details in both of his accounts, athletes are not immune to mental health struggles and one’s professional accomplishments are no protector against these powerful thoughts and feelings that seem to invade the mind without warning.

In his newest article, Love shares that he is not to be regarded as a finished product or as a complete success story, but instead as a person who is still figuring things out, and is taking the necessary steps to do so. He acknowledges that this process is highly individualized and therefore looks different for everyone, including the San Antonio Spurs’ shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, whom Love credits for entering this conversation even before he did. 

“The fact is, the real person is still dealing with his deep-seated sh*t every single day,” Love wrote about himself. “The real person is still trying to learn how to control his anger and anxiety. And the real person, by the way, never would have been able to tell his story in the first place without the courage of DeMar DeRozan, who blazed that path for everybody in the league today.”

Via Twitter, DeRozan shared a snippet of his challenges with the world just before Love’s panic attack. The simple yet profound tweet stated, “This depression get the best of me…,” which ignited an outpour of support from fans, fellow NBA players and even the league as a whole. However, even more than just seeing this tweet as a means of gathering support, these few words signify a change of tone, a paradigm shift that both DeRozan and Love have been instrumental in spearheading. Through their transparency, disclosure and openness, both players have been able to take strides in their own journey toward healing, while simultaneously modeling this pathway for others.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Love and DeRozan have put this thought into action, as the two NBA stars have not only paved the way for each other, but also for the community at large. So, to anybody going through it, let us not be afraid to find our own personal platform, speak up and share our valuable stories. In doing so, may we find strength, engage in active healing and demonstrate courage so others will know that they too are not alone.

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