In his Player’s Tribune piece, ‘Why I Walked Away From the NBA,’ former Milwaukee Buck Larry Sanders reflects on who he is and what he values beyond being a basketball player.
“I’m a person. I’m a father. I’m an artist. I’m a writer. I’m a painter. I’m a musician. And….sometimes I play basketball.“
– Larry Sanders
I don’t know if it constitutes a trend, but it seems that today’s athletes are more accessible and outspoken than ever. We have the opportunity to relate to them more as people, and not just athletes we watch on a television screen. And they have the opportunity to use their platform to speak and connect broadly on issues that range from racism and mental health.
From Royce White’s ‘I Can’t Breathe Now Either’ to Josh Gordon’s ‘Open Letter to Charles Barkley and Co.’ and now to Larry Sanders ‘Why I Walked Away From the NBA,‘ their spoken and written pieces are showing us that they are whole people, just like you and me.
Months ago, Milwaukee Bucks shot-blocking center, Larry Sanders, quit the NBA without explanation. Yesterday, he explained why.
In his piece, published by The Players Tribune, Sanders explains why why he walked away from basketball. His explanation is extraordinary and startling in its depth and raw humanity.
Sanders piece includes the above intensely personal and frank five-minute video, worth watching in its entirety.
Sanders opens by explaining that he had been struggling with mental health issues:
“I know I disappeared for a while, and people were wondering where I was. I actually entered into Rogers Memorial Hospital. And it was a program for anxiety and depression and mood disorders. It taught me a lot about myself. It taught me a lot about what’s important and where I would want to devote my time and energy.”
So many struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, that this shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. What remains shocking to us, sadly, is that even the rich and privileged struggle with these issues. Even people who are paid millions of dollars to play basketball for a living.
What is also shocking is that – following in the path of Royce White – Sanders is speaking out about it, openly and directly. Not many do. But perhaps that is beginning to slowly change.
Sanders indicates that while he loved basketball, he doesn’t want it to consume so much of his life and time at the moment. Larry will be focusing on himself and his family and other pursuits.
Sanders recognizes that not everyone will agree with his path or like it:
“People are going to have their opinions about it. There will be the Twitter that says like ‘Hey, I hope you going to die,’ and the next one will say ‘Yo, I love you, come to my team.’ ‘Go play for the Mavs,’ and the next one is like’Go jump off a cliff.”
He doesn’t much care.
He’s right that there will be doubters and critics. Some may look at Sanders and have the visceral reaction of: “You have it all! What are you doing?!”
Others may discount the mental health aspect and conclude that what he is describing is simply a young man searching for himself and struggling with finding his place in the world, trying to find out who he is and to be true to that. But we can never comprehend the dark struggles of others, and it is dangerous to make assumptions. So many – even rich basketball players – carry inside deep struggle and pain.
But even if we conceive of this as an example of our universal struggle to find ourselves, rather than a struggle with mental health, that commonality makes it no less serious or important.
It is true that Sanders is lucky to have the freedom and resources to stop working and sort through all that. Not many have that. But it still is no easy thing to do. Not many have the strength to deeply question their day to day life, to reverse the momentum of just manning up and going about ones life, to pause and get off that hamster wheel.
Sanders most important message may be this one:
“Don’t neglect ‘the and.’
You can say I’m selfish. And I’m loving. And I’m caring. And I’m fearful sometimes. And I’m also brave.’
We all are more than just one thing.”
We often define people by their jobs or their role in our life, as we see it. We sometimes think of ourselves in such simple terms. In fact that two-dimensional shorthand just scratches the surface.
Larry Sanders is not ‘just a basketball player.’ None of us can be defined so simply. Whether we are athletes or lawyers or writers or accountants or steel workers, we are whole people, complex and varied, and often a tangle of contradictions. And life can be a struggle.
It’s a damned good thing to be aware of it.
Photo Credit: YouTube/Screen Capture.