Recently I was watching the NBA playoffs, and I saw a segment featuring six-time All-Star Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers. He was sharing how being sequestered away in the NBA “Bubble” had caused him to suffer depression. For him, these feelings were unanticipated. He then went on to share how he got some counseling and felt better. You would think that someone who has battled depression, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts as much as I have would have had sympathy for him. I didn’t at first.
My first thought was, “you’re a multi-millionaire, what do you have to be depressed about?” I then went on to think about how military members are sent on deployments and remote assignments and are separated from their families for months, even up to a year at a time. Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of Deion Sanders, a Hall of Fame Football player who played for the Falcons, Niners, Cowboys, Redskins, and Ravens.
Years ago, I watched Deion Sanders’ testimony in which he shared that all the fame of being known as “Prime-Time,” and winning multiple Super Bowls weren’t enough to make him happy. He said he won a second Super Bowl, and shortly after, he was depressed. He later went on to attempt suicide.
I had no right to look at what Paul George had materially and say that he had less of a right than I did to experience depression, especially during COVID-19. I had to repent. A similar thing happened when Skip Bayless, co-host of Fox Sports’ “Undisputed” criticized Dak Prescott for going public with his battle with depression:
“Bayless criticized Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for revealing on an upcoming episode of “In Depth with Graham Bensinger” that he dealt with depression and began experiencing anxiety in the early stages of the coronavirus shutdown. Then in mid-April his older brother, Jace, died by suicide, which brought a new wave of emotions. Bayless said that while he has sympathy for those with clinical depression, he has no sympathy for Prescott because as quarterback of “America’s team” he’s supposed to be a leader of men.
“I have deep compassion for clinical depression, but when it comes to the quarterback of an NFL team, you [Shannon Sharpe] know this better than I do, it’s the ultimate leadership position in sports, am I right about that?” Bayless said on “Undisputed”. “You are commanding an entire franchise… And they’re all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team.
“Because of all that, I don’t have sympathy for him going public with, ‘I got depressed,’ ‘I suffered depression early in COVID to the point that I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s team ...
“The sport that you play, it is dog eat dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spots and it can definitely encourage others on the other side to come after you.”
Do not listen to Skip Bayless.
A leader of men does what Prescott did. Being vulnerable does not make Prescott less of a leader. For locker rooms that constantly preach “family,” it could bring his teammates closer and lead to a new level of respect, and perhaps to some of them revealing their own bouts with depression, whether brief or ongoing.
You know, being human. Showing love and support to one another, like families do.
For far too long, men in particular have suffered through mental illness in silence because of toxic attitudes like Bayless’s, and this is especially acute in the Black community where for too long mental health discussions have been stigmatized or met with a recommendation to “pray more” in lieu of getting help from a professional, which results in Black Americans seeking mental health about half as often as others (lack of health insurance contributes as well).” (Young, 2020)
Skip Bayless’ comments and my thoughts couldn’t have had any worse timing. This is National Suicide Prevention Week. I know as well as anyone that prolonged sadness and despair can lead to suicide. I was a person who, as a child, was in the same house as someone who attempted suicide. I know better than to take the topic of depression and prolonged sadness lightly. I also had a high school classmate that committed suicide in mid-life.
When you read the statistics for African American men, there is no question that we should be providing even greater support for these men when they take the brave step of coming forward and asking for help. It should be applauded, not ridiculed. The support and encouragement that we provide to those in our circle of influence could save someone’s life.
Thank you Paul George, Dak Prescott, Deion Sanders, and the many other brave men and women in various fields for being honest about your mental health struggles!
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