Declaring Ineligibility: Royce White, Unlikeable Hero

In sports, TV on 02/18/2013 at 19:32

It is an odd decision for a potentially 18 year old kid to make: go pro, or sign up for classes next fall. Once a kid has made up his mind to try his hand at NBA basketball, he “declares eligibility” for that year’s draft. There is no guarantee the kid will be drafted at all, and that puts him in a precarious position. While he can return to school and further his education, he can no longer ball.

So when Royce White said he was ready for NBA basketball going into the 2012 NBA draft, one of the deepest in years, he was indeed making a declaration: I am prepared to put my college days behind me and become a professional athlete. Sure, an NBA player is no police officer, brain surgeon, NASA launch officer (Oh wait, no one is!), but they are a professional nonetheless.

White declared his eligibility, but has yet to log a minute of NBA play, and until a few days ago hadn’t played basketball period since ending his college career. He declared eligibility, but he surely hasn’t been professional.

Hero? Hated.

For those who don’t follow basketball (and those who only follow basketball players that actually play), Royce White’s mental issues were no secret going into the draft. He is OCD with a general anxiety disorder, among other things. So when the Houston Rockets selected White with the 16th pick, it was widely regarded as a risk–if not a mistake.

So far, the latter has proved to be true.

An initial blurb about White not attending training camp on time turned into a months long spectacle as White battled with Rockets management about to properly treat his issues. Chief among White’s concerns were his fear of flying. At 21, White should be cut SOME slack. But nowhere near enough. When he made that public declaration of eligibility, was Royce unaware that NBA teams are not only scattered across the country, but in Canada as well? And quickly spreading to Europe? Unlikely.

Did he miss the entire lockout season last year, where many teams were forced into back to back to back situations, seeing five different cities in seven days? Even less likely.

White’s efforts to have mental disorders recognized and properly treated are noble. His ongoing public feud with Rockets management via twitter was not. His inability to cite his exact problems with his situation despite talking endlessly about it was even less endearing.

However one need only examine the tweets back at Royce or the comments on ESPN forums to see how ignorant the population is about mental disorders. Many have confused an anxiety disorder with a simple fear of flying (which is no joke either) and suggest he just pop an ambien and sleep through the flight. Sorry folks, the brain does not operate that way.

White made his d-league debut last week, logging eighteen minutes and producing 7 points, 8 boards and 4 assists. There have been reports that White is out of shape, which would further fuel the fire around White’s commitment to his so-called profession, but those reports are largely unfounded, and his solid protection after nearly a year out of competition disputes that claim.

Mental illness is still one of the most misunderstood issues in society today. However White continues to assume the role of an unlikable champion for this exceedingly important issue. After this first contest, White was asked why the nation is afraid to discuss and properly address mental illness. White responded so:

“Because that would mean [admitting] 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.”

Not only does White sound like a pompous windbag who has preached his cause by refusing to perform his job, he again cites the “business vs. health” theme. The business? The NBA. The Houston Rockets, who have been flying around the country since 1967. The health concern? All on White’s part, the boy who declared himself eligible, i.e. READY TO PLAY.

Here’s hoping that the NBA does all they can to welcome the mentally ill into their midst. And here’s hoping that White lives up to the declaration he made last summer. He said he’s eligible, now let’s see it.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. One of the major issues we have today in America, is the thought that we can have it all, that anything is achievable. That’s a myth. If you’re 5’8″ and slow, you probably can’t rely on Basketball for a living. The same goes for poor math skills and becoming and Astronaut. Get seasick? Crab fishing is out. You see, it should be about opportunity, not entitlement. Mentally ill people should have the same opportunity as anyone else. Unfortunately, if you can’t fly, if you can’t show up on time, in shape, professional basketball is not for you.

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