The connection between sports and mental health has been a somewhat taboo topic, with many athletes hesitant to talk about the issues they’ve been going through, both on and off the court.
This week, ESPN has put a spotlight on several aspects of mental health in a series by senior writer Jackie MacMullan in which she interviews several NBA players, including All-Stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan and former Pistons forward Marcus Morris.
One recurring theme is the stigma attached to players seeking professional help and the fear of being judged for seeing a therapist or for taking medication to help in their situations.
Pistons forward Blake Griffin spoke out on the issue Wednesday, appearing on the “Pull-Up Podcast,” hosted by Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum.
“I have gone and seen a therapist before, just to sit and talk — sports therapists, regular therapists,” Griffin told McCollum. “What a lot of people don’t realize about therapy is they’re not giving you answers; they’re helping you find those answers.
“That’s very therapeutic for a lot of people.”
Griffin also touched on coping with the pressures of being a professional athlete and the inner circle of friends and family that can enable players to build larger egos and be oblivious to their own realities.
Part of the solution for Griffin is to try to stay grounded and soliciting honest feedback from those around him. That includes listening to family members, including his brother Taylor, and taking time away from the game to recharge and refresh. Griffin also does some stand-up and sketch comedy to help take the edge off and provide himself with an outlet.
“Just keeping people around me who I know are there to tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear,” Griffin said. “A lot of times, that helps for me, just having those simple conversations with people who really know me, not just there in passing.
“Add that to comedy and TV and other things to sit and take your mind off a bad game or whatever it may be.”
In the ESPN series, new Pistons coach Dwane Casey also weighs in on the prevalence of alcohol abuse in the NBA as a means for coping with the immense pressures. In addition to prescriptions or marijuana, alcohol has long been an option for players, which mirrors society in general.
“Too many guys are turning to that,” Casey said. “And there’s no doubt part of it comes back to the stigma attached to being on medication. I hear players say, ‘Oh, I might lose my edge or my toughness,’ when, in fact, that’s often far from the truth.”