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Royce White Thinks You're Probably Mentally Ill

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"Martin Luther King was insufferable. JFK was certainly insufferable. Galileo was insufferable. It's always tough to tolerate people who say the things that other people don't want to say." - Royce White (who, while not in the same league as the great men he mentions, is, in fact, insufferable)

The Best Basketball Player You've Never Seen Play

Royce White is an NBA player who has yet to step foot on the court as a professional. He's never grabbed a rebound; he's never taken a charge; and he's never hit a free throw, but no one can deny that the 21-year-old rookie oozes raw talent from his heavily tattooed pores. The Houston Rockets selected White with the 16th pick of the 1st round of the NBA draft in June of last year after he played only one season of collegiate basketball with the Iowa State Cyclones. During this lone season, however, he led his team in every major statistical category (scoring, steals, assists, rebounds, and blocked shots) - the only player to do so in Division I basketball that year.

He is as dynamic of a player to ever come out of the Big 12 Conference, yet he remains in street clothes on the sidelines during the Rockets' games. Why? White claims that Houston has been unable to provide him with a safe working environment, so he's chosen to not provide them with his skill set. He wants a private bus, a private doctor, and other special considerations written into his contract (a contract that has already been agreed upon and signed). You see, he struggles with his mental health, including General Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder... and he thinks you probably do as well.

A Brilliant 9th Grader

I've never met Royce White, so I can't definitively speak to the true essence of his character, but he fascinates me. In interviews, White comes across as enigmatic an athlete as we've seen in a long time, which is actually saying a lot considering the modern landscape of professional sports. He seems, at one moment, highly in tune to the realities of the mental health crisis in America, but at the next, more like a spoiled brat choking on his silver spoon while demanding a double standard.

For instance, in a recent conversation he had with author and journalist Chuck Klosterman, White stressed the need for what he called a league-wide "mental health protocol." After Klosterman asked him if he felt that mental illness was widespread in the NBA, White responded with a pretty solid argument about how the majority of NBA players dealt with some sort of addiction (substance, gambling, etc.), which would technically classify as a mental illness. (Conveniently, he doesn't believe in any "black and white" when it comes to mental illness, leaving the door open for even more unconventional theories about the subject.)

He went on to say that he believes that, to varying degrees, most Americans suffer with some form of mental illness. To which, Klosterman astutely pressed him on the fact that, if this were indeed the case, that would make mental illness a normative condition. White answers this question by comparing mental illness with the flu, declaring that, just because the flu might be rampant during an epidemic, it shouldn't be classified as a normal human condition. (It's statements like this that led Klosterman to refer to White as a "brilliant ninth-grader who just wrote a research paper on mental illness and can't stop talking about it.") 

White's enthusiastic approach is earnest and even admirable, but unfortunately for his argument, influenza can be objectively and scientifically diagnosed, leaving no room for debate, whereas most mental health conditions are diagnosed based on the very human enterprise of validating or condemning subjective behaviors inherent within our humanity. We've created the DSM to assist us in these efforts, but the process remains largely abstract, and Americans remain largely over-diagnosed. Mental illness is prevalent, but White can't just begin arbitrarily pointing figures and assuming that true mental affliction has become the norm.

Despite his inept analogy, White almost had me up until this point, but he just couldn't stop talking.

Volcano-front Property


Speaking candidly and independent of the questions asked, White goes on a brief rant about the war in America between business and health. His theory (which he believes to be fact) is that the financial discrepancy between the mega-wealthy and the rest of us causes 98% of the population to "struggle and struggle and struggle" until we become overwhelmed by our stress, causing us to develop mental health issues. Basically, White's general argument is that, since life is unfair, we are all losing our minds. All human beings are stressed, stress is a health condition, so we shouldn't have to work, but we should still get paid.

I'm sorry, but I find this stance more than a little simplistic and even more difficult to accept, especially when posited by a multi-millionaire getting paid to not do his job. I'm not denying the widespread existence of mental illness, I am, however, denying White's authority to diagnose me (along with hundreds of millions of other Americans) with such based solely on the fact that I'm in a certain tax bracket.

The ridiculousness of such a position isn't solely found in the (il)logic presented (although I do believe it's fairly ludicrous), but rather in the crybaby attitude that White exudes. When asked if stress is an occupational hazard of playing in the NBA, White continues to dig a deeper hole for himself:

CK: What if stress is just part of it?

RW: What does that mean, "It's just part of it"? That's like saying people getting killed is just part of war.

CK: But people getting killed is part of war. That's the downside of war.

RW: It doesn't have to be, though. We choose that. When you say, "That's just part of it," it implies that this is natural. Volcanoes don't kill human beings. Volcanoes kill human beings because human beings build houses right next to them.

CK: Yes. But when I ask, "What if stress is just part of it?" I'm really asking, "What if it's just part of the choice that society has made?" It may be problematic, but what if we've all agreed that this problematic thing is part of the experience of being involved in a rarefied profession?

RW: That's fine. But don't act like this wasn't a choice.

What choice Royce is talking about I can't be exactly sure, but it seems as though he's referring to his choice to enter said "rarefied profession" (I'm not sure that he's aware of the fact that he's been exposed by Klosterman at this point).

He's built his home next to the volcano, and now he's pissed that there's lava creeping up his driveway.


After being drafted, Royce White agreed to terms with the Rockets to the tune of $12 million over five years (my calculator tells me that this equals out to about $30,000 per game over the course of his contract). This man makes more dribbling a basketball for 60 minutes than the average American makes in a year (except he doesn't actually dribble the basketball, and the rest of us do go to work). Yet he wants to have it both ways. He wants the Rockets to coddle him and his demands and treat his mental illness like any other injury, but he refuses to live up to his end of the bargain and get out on the court. For a man paid a massive sum of money to play basketball, he's far too concerned with acting as America's personal psychiatrist.

White admits that he could play immediately, that he could suit up for the Rockets tonight, but that the long-term effects of doing his job renders the task moot. That's just plain laziness, which, I suppose, is nothing more than mental illness of an entirely different sort. Maybe Royce is right after all... except that he's not.


Klosterman, Chuck. "The White Album." Grantland. 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

Zilgitt, Jeff. "Royce White Battles for Mental Health - His and Others'" Sports. USA Today. 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

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