Royce White throws it down for Iowa State. (Flickr/Reese Strickland)
Royce White is an NBA player with a cause. The first round draft pick of the Houston Rockets sat out the first half of the season in protest of the ways the team handled issues related to his mental health. Now he is back, playing for the team’s D-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but he hasn’t stopped speaking out about the NBA, mental health issues and the way capitalism impacts our world. Yes, you read that last part correctly. I interviewed Royce White for my radio show, Edge of Sports, on Sirius/XM. Read an edited version of our interview below. I’ve edited some of my questions for clarity purposes and cut some questions and answers for brevity’s sake but Mr. White’s answers below are verbatim exactly as given. People can hear the full audio of our interview at this link. Royce White considers himself a “humanist” and as you will see, his humanity shines through.
Dave Zirin: Talk about what it’s like to be an athlete who is also not afraid to take political stands.
Royce White: The greatest thing that I ever got from sports was camaraderie and teamwork. And it was the teamwork piece that will allow me in the future to make an impact on this world because I understand cohesiveness and I understand chemistry and a group of people getting together and having the same goal and how to sacrifice so that your teammate can be the best them. But, number two is that sports—especially professional sports—is a microcosm of capitalism. And capitalism is, in my opinion, in its form as it stands today, one of the things that stands in human welfare’s way. And, the reason being is because it’s just a by-default sense of selfishness; I have to one-up the person next to me at some point to get ahead. And I’m always striving to get ahead. The person next to me becomes expendable, and those are things that I just don’t believe in. Not to say that I don’t believe in capitalism. I believe that capitalism is a great system and it gives us all something to strive for and it allows us to dream. But it needs to be reformed. And, the way it stands today is very human-welfare-unfriendly.
You’ve spoken about capitalism and the deterioration of our collective mental health in the past.
Here’s the deal, we all understand the dynamic of the few having control of most of the resources and the money and power and it’s a brilliant system that they set up. And I take my hat off from an intellectual standpoint; the system in itself is so brilliant. But the reality is that for 98 percent, the quality of life that we endure is so tumultuous, and it’s so drama-filled, and the messages we receive are so drama-filled and so tumultuous that it’s no surprise to anybody in the medical world why it is that we’re experiencing what I believe to be a mental health epidemic. And, not to say that it’s just starting now, because it’s been in effect for a long time we just now are finding words to call it [what it is]. But it’s in full effect and it will continue to grow until we start to care for one another. I think that mental health represents one of the greatest examples of the need for obligation, because with mental health, you don’t just stay in your lane. Somebody else’s issues become your issues and you have to be more conscious of how you interact with someone else, as opposed to just thinking about yourself.