Royce White slams it down for Iowa State. (Flickr/Reese Strickland)
This week, the most famous NBA player yet to play in the NBA finally took the court. Royce White, rookie forward for the Houston Rockets, suited up for their D-League team, the esteemed Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In eighteen minutes, he had seven points, eight rebounds and four assists.
But the bigger story was that White played at all. For months, the 21-year-old has been sitting out the season in protest: a rebel with a cause. White has been battling the Rockets over how they would deal with issues surrounding his mental health. The first-round draft-pick has an anxiety disorder that affects how he handles everything from flying to practices. He has made it clear amidst an avalanche of criticism that his mental health is more important than his contract or career. Throughout this difficult fall, White has become a crusader for change, calling out not just the NBA for disregarding mental illness and treating him like “a commodity” but also the fans that have sent him “hundreds” of violent and especially homophobic threats. White isn’t gay, but apparently, for some, caring about your mental health is the equivalent.
Until a recent interview however, it wasn’t clear just how politically thoughtful, serious and even revolutionary an athlete we have in Royce White. For White, this isn’t just about his struggle or changing how NBA teams treat mental illness. It’s about something far greater. In his interview on the ESPN spin-off site Grantland with journalist Chuck Klosterman, White said that the question we are scared to ask in the United States is, “How many people don’t have a mental illness?” Klosterman responded, “Why wouldn’t we want to talk about that?”
White’s reply is one for the ages:
Because that would mean the majority is mentally ill, and that we should base all our policies around the idea of supporting the mentally ill because they’re the majority of people. But if we keep thinking of them as a minority, we can say, “You stay over there and deal with your problems over there”.… [T]he problem is growing, and it’s growing because there’s a subtle war—in America, and in the world—between business and health. It’s no secret that 2 percent of the human population controls all the wealth and the resources, and the other 98 percent struggle their whole life to try and attain it. Right? And what ends up happening is that the 2 percent leave the 98 percent to struggle and struggle and struggle, and they eventually build up these stresses and conditions.*