Yesterday, Roger Goodell’s personal choice for league-wide voice parading as professional scribe, Peter King, made some rather inane comments with regards to an NFL Draft prospect and his supposed character flaws. This is, of course, the type of rhetoric we hear this time of year when the league’s worst come out of the woodwork to critique every little aspect of the lives of a bunch of physically gifted college kids. It’s the same charade every year–immature jock does immature things over the course of three to four years, every person within earshot of a team’s front office rakes immature jock across the coals, immature jock still manages to become millionaire. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
This year was a little different–at least in regard to what King referred to in his post-Draft MMQB column. It’s not so much that King regurgitated his yearly mind-numbing recounting of what happens behind the magic curtain that is the NFL War Room. Rather, it was King’s choice of words and how he chose to relay the feelings held by a couple of GM’s across the league. It’s about how King–and others–have chosen to label one player’s battles with potential mental illness conditions as being a character flaw.
I say potential because in the article itself, King chose to essentially word it as such, as though he were making it some sort of damning accusation if true. There are mentions of reports and speculation about this poor kid, Randy Gregory of Nebraska, going so far as to lump in his “history of depression and anxiety” and “his marijuana history” as a reason the he fell down so far on many team’s draft boards. These are the supposed character flaws. Marijuana use. Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar. “Some other” personality disorder.
Ask anyone who suffers from any type of mental illness and they will tell you this is nothing new, it’s just another part of their every day life. Well, they may tell you, or they may be too scared of the repercussions and fallout to mention it to anyone. Because, you see, King’s characterization of these type of disabilities as a character flaw is exactly the type of stigma many of us have to contend with in our personal and professional lives. Most of us aren’t able to be open and honest about what we suffer from and the trials we must overcome daily for that very fear of stigmatism. It isn’t just amateur athletes on the verge of turning professional who fear the coal raking. It’s all of us.
There remains a horrible stigma in every community surrounding those who fight with mental illness. Often times, the conditions themselves are reduced to slurs and some type of scarlet letter, regardless of truth. It’s ignorance fueling stigma fueling ignorance. How many times have you heard a friend, family member, or co-worker refer to someone as “bipolar” simply because the person in question had some sort of unreasonable reaction to something? “That bitch must be bipolar or something, because she just went crazy,” they’ll say. Hell, you probably even heard someone say it today.
How many of those people have said such a thing to someone they were unaware suffers from that very mental illness? Based on years of personal experience, way too many. You see, only a handful of the people I work with are aware of my conditions. For those not in the know, I was diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, and severe anxiety in my mid-twenties. The conditions predated the diagnosis by over a decade, and I have struggled greatly in the decade since. But while all of this plays a pivotal role in my day-to-day life, I fear word getting out to those who make the key professional decisions around me. Not because the conditions will somehow keep me from advancing upward, but because the ignorance surrounding them will.
The viewpoint of mental health conditions as a “character flaw,” or that it is some reflection of choice isn’t limited to the tight scope of the NFL combine, or any other professional league draft. I’ve lost relationships and friendships because of the inability to understand that overcoming such disorders is actually a positive trait, not a negative one. I’m not going to sit here and expound on the many virtues of overcoming the odds, because there is a time and place for such a thing, and I don’t feel this exact topic is it. What I will say is that it is that very ignorance and lack of understanding that keep it from being viewed as if it were any other serious medical condition.
If you have followed me on Twitter for a while, or known me on various internet forums over the years, you know I am very forthcoming when it comes to discussing the trials and tribulations of mental illness, and how my personal struggles have helped form me into the person I am today. My purpose in doing so has always been to fight that ignorance–to make people aware that the person sitting right next to them, the person they interact with every day, could be battling with tons of inner demons they aren’t able to share with the world. But they aren’t able to let you into that dark side because they fear how you, and others, will react to the knowledge. I’ve taken that leap of faith with people before, expecting them to be understanding, only to have them recoil and pull away once I’ve shared my struggles. We are taught the worst thing we can do is isolate ourselves, but how are we to do so when the people around us shy away when we are open and honest?
I feel as though I have strayed a bit:
The lingering point I’m trying to nail home here is one that people such as King, whom hundreds of thousands turn to every Monday morning for his supposed “insight,” only serve to set back any progress that has been made when they reiterate how organizations view mental illness as some sort of character flaw. Whether King actually believes it, or he was simply relaying how NFL front offices view these conditions is irrelevant to the discussion here. He is serving as the voice given to all of these decision-makers who are able to hide behind their own ignorance. He may not be the most guilty of everyone involved, but he is the most visible, and that is as damning as anyone who holds the beliefs.
At some point we as a society need to be open to having the discussion about mental health. It’s almost insulting that this column ran just a couple days into May–the month proclaimed as Mental Health Month by President Obama in 2013 and backed by organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If we are ever going to educate the public on the reality of those who live with mental health conditions, it has to start with each and every one of us. We must make a stand against people like Peter King and those who choose to view a health condition as a character flaw.
I’ve included a link below on how you can better help to educate yourself and others about the issues at hand. Do yourself and those around you a good deed, and at least click through.