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After 10 seasons in the game, you would be forgiven for thinking NBA superstar Kevin Love had faced his fair share of tough opponents, but on November 5th, 2017, the Cleveland forward was fighting a different battle.

Marred by an interrupted pre-season and the Cavaliers’ 4-5 start, Love felt the pressure and for the first time in his 29 years, there was nothing in the playbook to combat it.

“After halftime, it all hit the fan. Coach Lue called a timeout in the third quarter. When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head” Love said in a candid Player’s Tribune essay posted online.

The five time All-Star played just fifteen minutes that night and was promptly rushed to the Cavaliers’ clinic following his in-game panic attack. In the following game, the power forward returned to his damaging best, producing 32 points in the Cavaliers’ win over the Bucks, but it was the overwhelming shame of the previous night that still weighed heavy on his mind.

“I distinctly remember being more relieved than anything that nobody had found out why I had left the game against Atlanta. A few people in the organization knew, sure, but most people didn’t and no one had written about it.”

Days passed and while the Cavs were on a hot streak, Love was asking himself a new question, “Why was I so concerned with people finding out?”.

 “It was a wake-up call, that moment. I’d thought the hardest part was over after I had the panic attack. It was the opposite. Now I was left wondering why it happened — and why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

 “Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook.”

 

It’s an old story and one we’ve seen many family members and celebrities struggle with but it was the Cavs’ staff and Love himself’s decision next that has garnered praise from all sources, both inside and outside the NBA. The team set him up with a therapist and Love attended weekly meetings for months.

It wasn’t until he was spurred on by fellow NBA All-Star Demar Derozan, who spoke about his own troubles with depression that Love shared his ongoing journey. “I’ve played against DeMar for years, but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything. It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles — all kinds of things — and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them”.

 

Demar Derozan mental health advocate

(Toronto Raptors player Demar Derozan has battled his own mental health issues)

 

The decision for NBA superstars like Kevin Love and Demar Derozan to speak up has been heralded by NBA fans and the media, and shows signs that as a society we are making positive steps forward. Organisations with enormous reach like the NBA are using their influence to help remove the stigma attached to seeking help and throw out that old playbook in every man’s psyche, but it’s still an uphill battle.

In light of Australian Cricket’s ball-tampering shame, the world watched as disgraced former Captain Steve Smith broke down in tears following his 12-month ban. The guilt was accepted, the punishment justified, but the response from Cricket fans and the media was not.

The onslaught of headlines, photos and comments following Smith’s speech was nothing short of savage, typified by the Daily Mail’s “Captain Cry-Baby” front page spread.

In a country where men under the age of 45 are more likely to die by suicide than by car accident or heart attack, this is unacceptable. The “only women cry” stereotype needs to be replaced not reinforced.

Prominent Australian journalist Peter Overton has called on Cricket Australia to follow the NBA’s lead. “It's critically important @CricketAus offers Steve, David & Cameron unconditional support. They have a non negotiable "duty of care" to these young men re their mental health and ongoing support”.

 

When we see celebrities and sports stars who personify the strength and courage we aspire to hold, rarely do we desire to see them fall. What is encouraging to see is that despite their mental illness, NBA players Kevin Love and Demar Derozan have not fallen, they have stood tall as a beacon for men everywhere. They have helped to break down barriers and forced men to reflect on their own mental health.

“The biggest lesson for me since November wasn’t about a therapist — it was about confronting the fact that I needed help” Love said. In 2018, men need to know that seeking help is not admission of weakness.

 

It’s true that mental illness does not discriminate. It’s true that confronting you personal issues is difficult, but it’s false to believe you have to do it on your own.

Having a problem doesn’t make you a bad person, but finding a solution will make you a better one.

 

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