Former Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace may be best known for his tenacious defense, past antics or perhaps even that ‘dagger’ three pointer down the stretch of Game 7 back in 2010, but his honesty about mental health and what he’s endured throughout life could actually make his greatest impact upon society. World Peace’s style of appearing to generally wear his heart on his sleeve in life (and on the court) definitely resonated with fans of the NBA, but something he said after winning that title with the Lakers continues to impact players more than five years later.
You’ll remember, World Peace (known as Ron Artest at the time) took a moment to thank his sports psychologist (Dr. Santhi Periasamy) both during his post-game interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke and in a wildly entertaining press conference that followed. Some may have chuckled due to the unorthodox timing or laughed it off as simply “Ron being Ron” at the time, but anyone that lives with or has experienced mental health issues vicariously knew just how pivotal a moment that was.
I felt that when [World Peace] did that, it kind of opened doors to make it somewhat OK,” Lakers center Roy Hibbert told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes during a recent interview. “I think it’s great he actually did that,” Hibbert continued.
Far too often, as a society, it almost becomes second nature to view athletes and people in the limelight in general as being somehow beyond having the same type of struggles and difficulties as everyone else. What we fail to realize at these times is that regardless of having an incredible ability to run, jump, sing or act, these are people that endure similar trials and tribulations; only, they are generally going through them right before our eyes.
While plenty of rumors have swirled regarding the exact reason(s) for Hibbert’s significant drop-off in overall productivity over his last 15 months as a member of the Indiana Pacers, the fact is he was clearly going through a difficult time whether in his personal or professional life.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a rough day or period at work due to struggles with a co-worker or as a result of a tumultuous phase in our personal lives. Those of you that aren’t (at least) hypothetically raising your hands can go ahead and stop being dishonest with the rest of the class.
As tends to be the case when interviewing World Peace, the conversation with Holmes went on to cover a wide-ranging array of topics related to the subject of mental health. What stood out most to me was the fact that while World Peace did mention how other players have thanked and/or commended him for bringing the subject to light, he also acknowledged we still have a “long way to go” before the public’s awareness, understanding and acceptance of mental health issues reach a level where one no longer has to feel ostracized as a result.
Everybody has different issues, good or bad, that they carry with them on the court,” World Peace continued. “It affects you. And for me, it affected me to where sometimes I would be overly aggressive and, in other ways, it would affect people to where they can’t perform on the court,” he concluded.
What World Peace actually shed the brightest light upon was the fact that we unfortunately still view the act of acknowledging mental health issues as somewhat of a taboo subject. Especially when it comes to males and sadly, particularly when it comes to athletes.
It takes far more courage, whether a public figure or not, to withstand the vulnerability that is still attached to the subject than any last-second shot or big play ever has, and World Peace should absolutely be commended for at least attempting to normalize the discussion.