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Royce White
November 14, 2012 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Royce White is a professional American basketball player who suffers from general anxiety disorder. Though he was considered one of the best talents in last year's NBA draft, he was not selected until the 16th pick, due to concerns over his mental health and his avowed reluctance to fly. Although the NBA season is only a couple of weeks old, White and his team, the Houston Rockets, are already having difficulty determining how to manage his health while meeting the professional demands of the NBA. LINKS: Documentary highlighting White's anxiety // Highlights of White while at Iowa State // White's Twitter account (where he is currently tweeting about his situation)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (46 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fascinating. Thanks for this post.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:18 AM on November 14, 2012


Not sure it's the intended point, bit the general concept is a great indicator of how we're still in the dark ages with respect to what I can only describe as 'behavioral health'.

(No, it's not a great term for it, but that's what they call it at the hospitals, so I'm just gonna go with that.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:19 AM on November 14, 2012


How difficult it must be to be an anxious person who is great at something that puts them in the spotlight! I'm extremely anxious but I live completely off the entire world's radar and pretty much structure my life to avoid being a public focus.

This makes me shudder just to imagine it.
posted by srboisvert at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty surprised the Rockets haven't handled this better. White's issues were very public prior to him being drafted, and if they really wanted to invest in him it seems like they could have done a better job of it. My guess is that the team has a mix of "let's try to make this work" and "wtf is this guy's problem" mindsets, and the latter typically wins when there's a battle.

I'm casual friends with the head coach of Iowa State, and Fred gave Royce an atmosphere he thrived in after his tragically abortive stint at Minnesota, so it's certainly possible. I feel for him now though, because the air travel requirements in the NBA are so demanding. I can't imagine how hard that would be for someone with his issues.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:42 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


His tweets calling out the massive hate he's getting are pretty extraordinary. Having people say this kind of stuff about you would make most people want to shut down even without an anxiety disorder, and he's just calling them out on it and speaking his mind.
posted by zachlipton at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good for him in being so open and honest, his tweets though show a level of immaturity (which is COMPLETELY normal at 21) that the management of the Rockets do not seem to understand and seem to hold against him. I hope he has good people in his corner because he is facing a pretty entrenched system that does, truly, look at him as only a commodity.
posted by saucysault at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2012


From the article: the idea that someone could even try to deal with similar problems in such a demanding profession, under lots of scrutiny, remains genuinely inspiring.

Absolutely.

I'm actually not too too torn about this, and I'm a mental health professional in a couple of different capacities. Not everyone is able to play in the NBA. Not everyone has the talent, and not everyone has other capacities that allow them to play, and not everyone is healthy enough to play. White seems to be framing this very much as a health issue, which I understand, but ultimately what that means is that if you aren't healthy enough to play, you aren't healthy enough to play. That this health, or lack thereof, is of the mental variety has very little bearing on this, although White's tweets seem to suggest that he thinks it does.

He should absolutely get support, he should not be threatened or pilloried, but he also has a job to do and if he can't, then both parties need to find a resolution.
posted by OmieWise at 10:50 AM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


OmieWise... I'm missing something entirely. The point of the entire mental health field is so that everybody can lead a normal life. Having entire sections of the world simply cut off because his brain is wired differently isn't really an 'acceptable solution'
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:55 AM on November 14, 2012


Playing in the NBA isn't normal life, I think most of the world is cut off from that one. if he's not fit for it, he's not fit for it.
posted by yonega at 11:03 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The point of the entire mental health field is so that everybody can lead a normal life.

I think OmieWise's point might be that playing in the NBA is not a normal life.

I'm curious to know how this has played out with other rookies who have developed physical health or fitness problems such that they couldn't play at the start of their first season and might be out indefinitely. Does that happen often?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2012


Being a prime physical specimen does not somehow make you impervious to mental issues, the case of Hannover 96 and German goalkeeper Robert Enke being a further tragic illustrative case.
posted by PenDevil at 11:05 AM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, I'm not sure what you think I wrote. There is no "entire section of the world" cut off from White. Not playing in the NBA does not somehow equate to being a second class citizen. Think of it this way: should someone whose emphysema, or silicosis, prevents them from running be in the NBA?

I don't think that mental illnesses are problems of "brain wiring," but suggesting that they are actually strengthens the argument that White may not physically have the capacities to play in the NBA. This isn't like some sort of scarlet letter, and my point is that I'm not sure how this is a human rights issue either*, unless we simply say that everyone, regardless of capacity, should get to do whatever they want.

*(Which is not to be confused with an argument against reasonable accommodation, and the expansion of our definitions of normal to allow a broader range of participation in life in general for all sorts of people with disabilities and/or quirks, all of which I support.)
posted by OmieWise at 11:07 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


But, yeah, I understand that this is an issue with some consequences precisely because although this is an edge-case there are plenty of normally shitty situations in which people with all kinds of issues are given no support and no help and end up in shitty lives that are bounded by symptoms that should be easily taken into account in a more just world. I guess what I'm saying is that I think White is confusing this thing with that other, shittier, thing, and while they are related they are not the same.
posted by OmieWise at 11:10 AM on November 14, 2012


I'm curious to know how this has played out with other rookies who have developed physical health or fitness problems such that they couldn't play at the start of their first season and might be out indefinitely. Does that happen often?

Greg Oden comes to mind. He missed his entire first season and has only ever played 82 games over 2 of the 5 seasons he was under contract (i.e. he missed 3 entire seasons not counting this year, which he's taking off to rehab without an NBA contract). In terms of how he's viewed, I'd describe it as somewhere between a tragedy and a joke. He's more a disappointment than the object of fan/media anger from what I've seen.
posted by Copronymus at 11:12 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a fellow sufferer of GAD and found the mini-documentary on him dealing with his own anxieties extremely fascinating; seeing so much of myself in him.

Of course I can't say I've ever been in his position regarding being chosen for a professional b-ball team; the closest I've come is worrying about being chosen for a course of education. But I can relate to what's going through his head.

"[Team X] doesn't want me? Yeah that's about what I expected. Nobody wants me. Seriously, who am I? An underachieving, terrible person, that's what. Why would anybody want me on their team? _I_ don't want me on my team. This is torture to watch. Why would they make people sit through this? Why would they make _me_ sit through this? I'm useless, just drop me from the roster. Forget it. This whole basketball thing, whatever, I don't care, I don't want to think about it, but I can't help myself."

... Something like that, but at hyper speed. On repeat.

I don't even keep up with the NBA anymore, but it was somehow.. awesome to see someone at his level expose himself like he did. More power to him.
posted by pyrex at 11:28 AM on November 14, 2012


NFL running back (and all around very interesting dude) Ricky Williams suffered from social anxiety disorder. He used to give interviews while wearing his helmet with a tinted full face shield. He credits therapy with allowing him to function, and thrive, in the NFL (smoking weed seems to have helped as well). I assume social anxiety disorder isn't as debilitating as generalized anxiety disorder, as it seems therapy alone isn't helping Royce White.
posted by schoolgirl report at 11:29 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just finished The Casual Vacancy, which includes a character with anxiety disorder (generalized, I think.) If Rowling got it right, which she seems to do, how nightmarish and disabling it would be for someone always in the public eye.
posted by bearwife at 11:47 AM on November 14, 2012


OmieWise: Not everyone is able to play in the NBA. Not everyone has the talent, and not everyone has other capacities that allow them to play, and not everyone is healthy enough to play. White seems to be framing this very much as a health issue, which I understand, but ultimately what that means is that if you aren't healthy enough to play, you aren't healthy enough to play. That this health, or lack thereof, is of the mental variety has very little bearing on this, although White's tweets seem to suggest that he thinks it does.

Exactly. The playground courts of America are littered with guys whose bad knees or ankles kept them from ever playing on NBA teams.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2012


There's something to be said against his openness. He's airing some disagreements that he's having with his employer in a very public manner and- to my knowledge- the Rockets are not. I think that's unfair of him, and pretty bush league. Though not an uncommon athlete tactic by any means.
posted by xmutex at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2012


Also, complaining about being a commodity? You're a professional athlete man. You're a commodity. If you don't like it, don't play the game.
posted by xmutex at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2012


Documentary highlighting White's anxiety
I want to give him so many hugs.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's something to be said against his openness. He's airing some disagreements that he's having with his employer in a very public manner and- to my knowledge- the Rockets are not. I think that's unfair of him, and pretty bush league. Though not an uncommon athlete tactic by any means.

This is what's going to end his NBA career, not necessarily his anxiety issues per se. That and he’s been less than impressive in the limited time he’s actually been on the court, and undersized power forwards aren’t exactly in short supply in the NBA.

Not to mention that it seems pretty inconsistent to have allegedly debilitating anxiety...but be perfectly comfortable airing your personal disagreements on the internet.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:06 PM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, I could see an NBA player and his team coming to some sort of mutual understanding about what sort of accommodations need to be made to minimize the effects of his anxiety disorder, but that process, whenever it happens, will not involve Twitter, I know that much.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2012


Not to mention that it seems pretty inconsistent to have allegedly debilitating anxiety...but be perfectly comfortable airing your personal disagreements on the internet.

That's not inconsistent, really, at all. Although that it might seem so is testament to how little we (collectively) understand about things like anxiety disorders.
posted by OmieWise at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I cried unexpectedly during the crashing sequence in "Flight," because, well, over the years I've developed an insane fear of flying. I've had that exact dream - specifically, I'm on a British Airways flight and we have an emergency landing and everything - and I've had it a lot so it is extremely detailed - so each time, I'm sitting in a different seat and we end up crashing/landing differently.

I hope he works it out, because even though what he has is a disease, he isn't entitled to an NBA career.
posted by phaedon at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2012


Royce White undoubtedly has severe anxiety disorder.

However, I think it's clear that this anxiety disorder is now triggered by, and could have been initially precipitated by a physiological issue.

I think Royce White is getting altitude sickness from airplane flights.

Altitude illness has symptoms which are essentially indistinguishable from severe anxiety and panic attacks:
People exposed to high altitudes often experience somatic symptoms triggered by hypoxia, such as breathlessness, palpitations, dizziness, headache, and insomnia. Most of the symptoms are identical to those reported in panic attacks or severe anxiety. Potential causal links between adaptation to altitude and anxiety are apparent in all three leading models of panic, namely, hyperventilation (hypoxia leads to hypocapnia), suffocation false alarms (hypoxia counteracted to some extent by hypocapnia), and cognitive misinterpretations (symptoms from hypoxia and hypocapnia interpreted as dangerous). Furthermore, exposure to high altitudes produces respiratory disturbances during sleep in normals similar to those in panic disorder at low altitudes.
People are known to get altitude sickness from airplane flights:
Although the cabin altitude in modern passenger aircraft is kept to 8,000 feet (2,400 m) or lower, some passengers on long-haul flights may experience some symptoms of altitude sickness.[8]
and the cabin pressure cutoff is right at the standard altitude illness threshold:
Altitude sickness—also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude illness, hypobaropathy, "The altitude bends", or soroche—is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet).[1][2]
If this is what's going on, White should have other problems beyond the symptoms of anxiety disorder that are associated with altitude illness. The first one I looked for was migraine, because altitude illness is associated with brain swelling, and when the brain swells, it can press against the skull and produce a classic symptom of migraine, scotoma and fortification illusion:
After Friday's match up with the Grizzlies it was reported that Royce White was out indefinitely with migraines. On Saturday Royce tweeted the following:

For the record, I'm not injured... Not even a little bit. #Truth
— Royce White (@Highway_30) November 11, 2012

Prior to Friday's game, Royce had been repeatedly on the inactive list alongside Scott Machado. There is something going on with Royce White's situation that the Rockets front office is desperately trying to bury.
Instead of counseling, White, the Rockets and his doctors should first try treating him for altitude illness, probably starting with Diamox:
The drug acetazolamide may help some people making a rapid ascent to sleeping altitude above 2,700 metres (9,000 ft), and it may also be effective if started early in the course of AMS.[18] The Everest Base Camp Medical Centre cautions against its routine use as a substitute for a reasonable ascent schedule, except where rapid ascent is forced by flying into high altitude locations or due to terrain considerations.[19]
I also think they could monitor the cabin pressure in their flights (which would be easy to do with the altimeter in the latest Samsung Galaxy cell phone) and offer to pay their airline to maintain a lower than usual cabin altitude and to make the transitions from one pressure level to another smoother and more gradual.
posted by jamjam at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm a little bemused that this is controversial. There are probably many cases of players eith mental health issues across all professional sports, but it's not public knowledge or it has not been diagnosed.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:38 PM on November 14, 2012


One thing people in this thread don't seem to realize is that his NBA contract is guaranteed. He gets paid no matter what he or the team does. There might be fines for disciplinary reasons but an NBA team doesn't get to dump salaries for any reason. It's part of the CBA. He gets just under 3 million for his first 2 years. Plus another 1.5 if his option gets picked up (unlikely).

That takes it out of the human rights domain in my opinion and more into the squandered talent category.
posted by srboisvert at 12:38 PM on November 14, 2012


jamjam, do you think cabins in airplanes are unpressurized? I get altitude sickness above 6,000 feet, but do fine on planes.
posted by QIbHom at 12:44 PM on November 14, 2012


This guy just seems really ill-suited for this profession. Both sides can want it but it just may not be possible. Basketball is a profession that requires a great deal of practice, travel and public participation, which is not compatible with GAD. Work arounds don't really seem feasible. I really hope he is getting extensive therapy and perhaps medication to deal with this and did note the doctor in the documentary but he may need to time to heal away from the sport.
posted by shoesietart at 12:46 PM on November 14, 2012


He's airing some disagreements that he's having with his employer in a very public manner and- to my knowledge- the Rockets are not. I think that's unfair of him, and pretty bush league.

He's 21. He is a goddamned kid, okay? And quite obviously a troubled one at that. I think we can dispense with the blame game here? I mean, the Houston Rockets - to their credit - have.
posted by mightygodking at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2012


He's airing some disagreements that he's having with his employer in a very public manner and- to my knowledge- the Rockets are not. I think that's unfair of him, and pretty bush league.
It might be worth keeping in mind that the Houston Rockets is a 45-year-old organization that is valued at about half a billion dollars, and has a team of well-paid professional press officers, whereas White, commodity though he may be, is a 21-year-old with a contract, a stigmatizing disorder, and a Twitter account, who appears to be making a genuine attempt to discuss his condition, make sense of where he's at, and what happens from here.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


The fact that he's lost out on a piece of his life that he's clearly worked very hard on simply means that we are behind in how society has been able to deal with these things.

The fact that some people find this acceptable because being a high caliber athlete is not 'normal' is both baffling and insulting to both those who suffer from these things and those who work with people who do.

It's along the same lines as saying that people who are short can't reach things on high shelves, because those shelves are not 'normal'. In that scenario the solution is for someone else to build a ladder or step stool. Society as a whole simply hasn't figured out what tool needs to be built for the sufferers. But it doesn't mean that it's acceptable.
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:06 PM on November 14, 2012


I think we can dispense with the blame game here? I mean, the Houston Rockets - to their credit - have.

Sure, buddy. The Rockets are fining this guy for every practice he misses. They are definitely playing the blame game, just not over Twitter.
posted by xmutex at 1:16 PM on November 14, 2012


I'm a Houston fan, and I really want to support White as much as he needs and hope the team does too. That being said, all this stuff the last two days seems weird, I didn't see any indication that the Rockets weren't being supportive, and from what I've read his only two points that might show the organization not working with him fully are that they're fining him for not showing up to practice or doctor sessions, as well as his personal belief that they didn't give him ample oppurtunity to prove his playing ability in training camp/practice.

Am I missing something? I mean the first point might hold some merit, but I believe in the Rockets staff and they've proven to be smart people (from what I can tell). It's hard for me to believe they didn't make it clear that he should either be at practice, or if not that going to the therapist appointments right? And the second point about not getting enough playing time, unless he wasn't participating to the best of his ability in practice because of his AD, then I trust the organization to be a good judge of his playing ability. And even if his AD is getting in the way of "trying out" essentially, it seems irresponsible of him to assume he would be ok in a game if he's not in practice.

The thing that's oddest to me, is that from the Rockets organization I'm seeing a lot of noncommittal comments along the lines of "This is between us and Royce, and we're trying to work with him", but at the same time he's on twitter defending himself and his disease against a bunch of idiots who are ignorant. I worry and hope that he can draw the line between Rockets organization (which I'm having a hard time seeing as non-helpful) and the lowest common denominator of Rockets fans who are tweeting at him.

It's like there should be a subset of "DON'T READ THE COMMENTS" for celebrities which is "DON'T READ YOUR TWITTER MENTIONS".
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2012


Blue_Villain: I think you're profoundly misguided, although I agree that we have a long way to go in finding ways to ameliorate the disadvantages from all kinds of disabilities. But, you didn't answer my question posed earlier: do you think someone who cannot run should be accommodated enough to play in the NBA? Do you think someone who can't see should be accommodated enough to be a pilot? What do you think the limits are for accommodation? Is there any acceptable limit?

I actually think you do people with mental health issues a real disservice by suggesting that any response short of having him play is unreasonable, baffling, and insulting. Either these are serious issues for which we demand serious considerations and approaches, considerations and approaches that admit that, as tragic as it is, some people will not get to do what they want to do because they suffer (through no fault of their own) from issues that preclude them from doing whatever that thing is; or, we suggest that there is no compromise on this issue and everyone who doesn't like that approach is uncaring or unknowing. I mean, I work in providing care to people with serious and persistent mental illness, and I don't know anyone, at any level, involved in what I do, and here I include hundreds of folks with serious and persistent mental illness, who thinks that these kinds of problems don't result in (sometimes) substantial limits on peoples capacities and prospects. Those limits and reduced capacities can and should be overcome, at least sometimes, but that does not mean that when they are present they are not present.

The fact that some people find this acceptable because being a high caliber athlete is not 'normal' is both baffling and insulting to both those who suffer from these things and those who work with people who do.

Yeah, maybe look to yourself. Perhaps you misunderstand what it means to be in the NBA, but it certainly isn't normal, however else you want to define it. Further, no one is saying White shouldn't be a "high caliber althete," or that he is not, they're just saying maybe he doesn't have what it takes to play in the NBA.
posted by OmieWise at 1:23 PM on November 14, 2012


White is being fined every day he remains away from the team or fails to attend sessions with a therapist the Rockets have arranged for him, a person with knowledge of the situation said.*
Sure, buddy. The Rockets are fining this guy for every practice he misses. They are definitely playing the blame game, just not over Twitter.

For every day he doesn't go to practice OR go to his therapist. If he'd blown out his ankle and was skipping rehab sessions they'd do the same thing, and if the issue is he doesn't like the therapist then that'd be an easy fix. It seems like his only defense was he didn't realize he had to go the therapist...
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:24 PM on November 14, 2012


Re: The Rockets accommodating White, keep in mind that on average, only about 1/3 of all players drafted in the first round will make it as NBA players anyway. Teams are somewhat but not overly sentimental with the players they draft -- even the ones who do not have mental or physical health issues.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2012


I can't get on reddit at work, but Daryl Morey (Rockets' GM) did a pretty candid AMA that I thought was great. I remember a question or two on White that at the time made me feel really good about the organization's prospects of working with him through this. I'll go digging for them tonight if no one else does.
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:31 PM on November 14, 2012


The fact that some people find this acceptable because being a high caliber athlete is not 'normal' is both baffling and insulting to both those who suffer from these things and those who work with people who do.

The people that find this unacceptable are not considering the situation fairly. If you were signing the multimillion dollar check that the Rockets signed as an investment in this player, you too would have the extremely elevated expectations and the more acute disappointments that the Rockets have.

This is not the banishment of someone who is ill, it's the reaction to someone not living up their part of an incredibly expensive investment. It's a different equation.
posted by xmutex at 1:35 PM on November 14, 2012


I've been following this myself for awhile (if you want to hear from a variety of sources, check Hoopshype's Rumors page), and I really don't think I have enough information to make a judgment one way or the other here. That said, here's what I think I've gleaned:

Royce wants to see his own doctor, the Rockets want him to see their own guy. Royce, like any NBA player, wants to play - the Rockets do not feel he's ready yet (fairly common among players taken at his draft position). I think Royce needs consistency (and he's stated that he's focused on that and getting "support" rather than focusing on the anxiety), and the Rockets agreed, and apparently thought the best way to help was to send him to the D-League so he can play on a nightly basis.

I can't imagine having the determination to maximize your talent to be a professional basketball player, practicing everyday with the team, then watching the game from the bench (he has yet to play one NBA minute). That really hurts those with that deep-seeded competitive drive.
posted by antonymous at 1:45 PM on November 14, 2012


I can't imagine having the determination to maximize your talent to be a professional basketball player, practicing everyday with the team, then watching the game from the bench (he has yet to play one NBA minute). That really hurts those with that deep-seeded competitive drive.

But this is part of being an NBA rookie for the vast majority of player not named Lebron James. You don't bitch about playing time on the internet if you want to get in the game, it's pretty standard operating procedure. Boston's Fab Melo, Oklahoma City's Perry Jones and Chicago's Marquis Teague are all in the same boat, but don't seem to be openly questioning the coaching staff on twitter.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:03 PM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, I'm not making excuses for the guy, just pointing out something that can influence his behavior. He's been disruptive to his teams ever since high school, and while pinpointing the issue (GAD) helps, that's just a starting point and and the actual treatment needs to be an ongoing process.
posted by antonymous at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2012


The reddit ama with GM Daryl Morey
Q: I've heard Royce White, a current player of yours, has a major fear of flying. How have you handled this situation, and what will you do in the future when traveling far for away games?

dmorey: Royce White has an issue with anxiety that is more common than people talk about and he has done a good job to bring awareness. It did not affect his ability to fly for games last year and we don't expect it to this year. It certainly did not affect him last year where he was unquestionably one of the top players in the country and the best player on the floor in the Kentucky-Iowa State NCAA tournament game.
Could've sworn there was another question about how the Rockets were helping him but guess not. Might be further down because Morey answered a bunch of questions.
posted by DynamiteToast at 7:21 PM on November 14, 2012


do you think someone who cannot run should be accommodated enough to play in the NBA?
The fact that you think it's as simple as not being able to run means that it's not me who's misguided here. He clearly can run, he clearly can play the game. He proved that in college. So why is that even being brought into the discussion?

It's the fact that society doesn't know how to 'give him a ladder' and the fact that some people don't even think there's a valid solution that's really getting my goat here.
posted by Blue_Villain at 4:14 AM on November 15, 2012


It seems like you don't want to engage with his limitations here. That's fine, but it doesn't make you a very good interlocutor. Until you stop pretending that this is just some misunderstanding on the part of everyone else, including White, apparently, you're unlikely to really understand this issue.
posted by OmieWise at 4:25 AM on November 15, 2012


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