Royce White is not a ‘head case,’ he has a mental illness

An NBA beat writer calls the Rockets’ rookie, who missed the first day of camp due to anxiety disorder, a “head case.” That’s not OK.

The Houston Rockets made Royce White, a freshman forward from Iowa State, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He’s built like a tank — the Rockets list him at 6’9 and 260 pounds — but managed to average five assists per game in his collegiate career in addition to shooting 53.4 percent from the floor, scoring 13.4 points, and snaring 9.3 boards. His combination of size and playmaking skills — dude can run the break and hit cutters like a point guard, run the floor like a swing, and board like a center — makes him one of the most tantalizing prospects in this year’s draft class.

White, 21, suffers from anxiety disorder. Among his particular issues is a fear of flying.

I feel an affinity for White not only because I admire his unique skillset, but also because I too suffer from anxiety disorder, in addition to clinical depression. It surprises and alarms me that he was unable to attend the first day of Houston’s training camp due to a personal matter, but the fact that Rockets GM Daryl Morey offered his unconditional support for the rookie comforts me.

What also surprises and alarms me is the cavalier attitude Darnell Mayberry, who covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Oklahoman, displays toward White and his illness in this piece. Mayberry explains that White’s illness is the reason the Thunder would not have been interested in drafting him, and seems to delight in White’s missing camp. “I found it rather comical when some Thunder fans back in June salivated for the services of Royce White,” Mayberry writes. “It just didn’t add up, White and the Thunder. Talented as White might be, it was clear to anyone who has paid attention that his past was too sketchy and his future too uncertain for the Thunder’s taste. He was such a risk that he might have been the last guy the Thunder would have drafted.”

Mayberry goes on to describe White — who, to emphasize, is a 21-year-old battling mental illness — as “a head case.” (See the editor’s note at the end of this piece.)

I’d argue that White is anything but a head case; he’s a young man trying to battle an illness, for goodness sake! Mayberry’s insensitivity and ignorance is one reason why folks with anxiety disorder — and there are many of us, from all walks of life — face such stigma.

I’ll explain the situation this way: I’m a 24-year-old college student who’s fought depression and anxiety for half my life. I’m on a medication regimen and talk to a counselor on a regular basis in order to manage these illnesses. And yet every day is a struggle: anxiety disorder and depression aren’t mere bugaboos which one simply conquers and puts in one’s past. They do not go away. Those who suffer from these illnesses must work proactively to keep them at bay.

Even as someone who shares White’s affliction, I cannot imagine dealing with the pressure White does every day. As a professional athlete, he’s in the public eye year round, and with any luck at the NBA level, he’ll remain in the public eye for a decade or more. Therefore, his struggles will also be public. The scrutiny he will face — and already faces, in articles like Mayberry’s — must be terrifying.

Pieces like Mayberry’s do nothing to help the situation, neither for people like White and I who suffer from mental illness nor for those on the outside who are not familiar with mental illness.

Editor’s note: Mayberry publicly apologized to White and all of those who suffer from mental illness on Thursday. — Tom Ziller

Evan Dunlap covers the Magic for SB Nation’s Orlando Pinstriped Post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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