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Kyrie Irving: Be Proud and Be a Leader…When You’re Ready

Brooklyn Nets’ superstar point guard Kyrie Irving speaks often of having an impact beyond the game. This may be his chance.

He last played an NBA game January 5, 2021 against the Utah Jazz. Rampant speculation often reverts to hushed whispers that he is having “mental health” issues. Perhaps he is, perhaps he is not. But the speculation need not be whispered any more than discussion of a sprained ankle, torn achilles or blood clot needs to be whispered. 

The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as a health condition involving problems functioning at work (among other things). Does not being able to play in five straight games (and counting) fall within that definition? Perhaps. The APA estimates that in a typical year, nearly one if five U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness and one in twenty-four have a serious mental illness. The last 12 months have been hardly typical, and the dramatic increases in people suffering mental health challenges cannot be a surprise.

Kyrie is a spectacularly talented artist with a basketball. He is also human, and basketball wizardry does not provide immunity to the human condition. Unfortunately, quite the opposite. His achievement in the ultra-competitive and uber-machismo realm of professional sports demanded that he hide his weaknesses. Mental health issues are unseen, easily hidden and too often stigmatized.

Sangu Delle’s Ted Talk, “There’s no Shame in Taking Care of Your Mental Health,” speaks of his incredible journey, and the mental health crisis that almost defeated him. The 2.5 million views show that he is speaking about something that people need to hear. And his lesson and goal are clear: Individuals have to stop thinking of their own mental health challenges as weaknesses to be hidden, and society has to stop thinking of people with mental health challenges as weak or defective. They suffer illness–a treatable illness.

Last year, Kyrie Irving suffered a shoulder impingement. It prevented him from playing for months. Nobody whispered about it and nobody judged him for it. It was diagnosed, treated, and he rehabilitated it. He came back and is averaging 27.5 points per game. If he is dealing with mental health issues, they should be talked about and addressed like any other health issue. Diagnosis. Treatment. Rehabilitation. 

Lead. Show those suffering from mental health issues, and the people who care about them. No whispers and no shame. 

Ken DeStefano
Ken DeStefano is an attorney in New York with over 15 years experience in the field of labor law and collective bargaining.

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