If you’re afraid of flying, you don’t apply for a job in the cockpit for United or American Airlines. If you cannot descend a ladder in full three-alarm regalia with a properly weighted sandbag slung over your shoulder, firefighting shouldn’t be your bag. And if you accept employment at a Wall Street firm, you don’t stroll in on your first morning making demands about “green” investing and the dress code.
Well, you can try, I suppose. That’s what Royce White continues to do in the ill-advised stand he’s taking against the Houston Rockets, who suspended the rookie forward on Jan. 6 for refusing to report to their NBA Development League affiliate.
Two days later, White sat for an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” show that will air Tuesday. He explained to correspondent Bernard Goldberg why he wants the Rockets to hire a mental health professional who could, on an ongoing basis, assess his fitness to play through the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders he suffers.
Asked what it would mean if, for instance, the doctor determined that White wasn’t mentally capable of playing in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on a given night, the 6-foot-8, 270-pound product of Iowa State said: “Then I can’t play against the Lakers.”
“Just like if your doc … if your orthopedist says, ‘Royce’s left toe has a crack in it and he shouldn’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight,’ then I can’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight.”
White said the only difference between his disorder and an orthopedic injury is “you can’t see mine. There’s no swelling, so to speak. It’s not purple.”
Emotions over White’s difficult and delayed first season with the Rockets intensified when the player went public with demands that his contract be re-written to include binding medical protocols to treat his disorders like any physical condition. That would violate the NBA standard player’s contract.
In the HBO interview, White told Goldberg that not playing or practicing without the necessary precaution of a neutral physician’s input would be “risking my life.”
“What comes along with mental health that goes untreated? Alcohol abuse. Marijuana abuse. Suicidal behavior. Homicidal behavior. Those are things I’m not willing to risk to play basketball, to have money, to have fame.”
The Rockets declined to be interviewed for the 16-minute segment. White’s $3.3 million guaranteed rookie contract is dwindling while he’s suspended. Goldberg asks Royce in the piece to respond to a fan’s perspective of “Who do you think you are? … Who are you to tell a team what the rules are?”
That is the bottom line for many. Some see White as a pioneer for mental health assessments within pro sports. Others want him to shut up and play, or go find another job where he can be healthy and happy.
Remember, the NBA process of seeding new talent each spring – though it’s called a draft – doesn’t compel young players to participate. White is free to pursue any line of work that he chooses – his ability to stay employed hinges on satisfying his bosses.
And even in a culture where a school teacher can sue her district because she has a phobia of young children, some people don’t embrace the idea of a new hire dictating terms to the private workplace.
White tells Goldberg that the power of his argument shouldn’t be based on how many points or rebounds he already has accrued as a basketball player. “I’m a human being, that’s it,” he says.
And – to his credit, if he’s being honest – the Rockets’ estranged rookie says that that he is willing to forego his NBA career, if that’s the alternative.
“Yes,” White said, “but I’m not going to accept it without a fight.”