Kevin Love Takes On Mental Health in Professional Sports

Cleveland Cavalier's Forward Kevin Love has released statements concerning mental health.

Cleveland Cavalier's Forward Kevin Love has released statements concerning mental health.

Rhys Levine, Sports Editor

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From the outside looking in, the world of professional sports is just that: a separate world. Sports fans marvel over 40-yard dashes and 100 mile-per-hour fastballs, idolizing the world’s top athletes performing at a superstar level. So often is this the case, that a slow process of dehumanizing those in such leagues takes place. The personal lives and aspects of what makes a person unique fade into obscurity, sidenotes to the highlight reel dunks and home runs that so often transform someone’s public image. And, according to Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, the life of a superstar athlete may include hiding one’s true self in order to maintain this image.

In a March 6th article on the Player Tribune website, Love published a story titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” In the article, Love addressed a hard-hitting topic that had very recently become prominent in his life: mental health. Specifically, Love spoke about his recent struggles with stress and panic attacks, even revealing that he was unable to play more than 18 minutes in a November 5th game after suffering a panic attack. Love, who had never experienced anything like what he did that night, vividly describes the emotional and physical toll the attack took on him in the article.

“I knew something was wrong almost right after tip-off. I was winded within the first few possessions. That was strange. And my game was just off. I played 15 minutes of the first half and made one basket and two free throws. 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. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk”said Love.

After the half, Love was, by all means, confused. In a flurried state of panic and disarray, the Cavs’ forward, after less than 20 minutes of distracted play, was left flustered, and, in his mind, alone.

Unable to return to the Hawks game, Love returned in a matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, which saw him return to form with 32 points and 16 rebounds. Love’s incident in Milwaukee had been kept under wraps, with only a few key members of the organization knowing what had happened. To Love, keeping the details of the attack private remained the most important part.

“I remember how relieved I was to be back on the court and feeling more like myself. But 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,” said Love. Even with the relative privacy of the matter and consistent performance on the court, Love still felt something was wrong. As his desire for privacy manifested, a question rose in the back of his mind: “Why was I so concerned with people finding out?”

What Love found, though an answer to his question, was less than comforting. In his 29 year life, he had been a highly-touted high school player, a standout in college, and an All-Star in the NBA. But through all of these experiences, Love had never once talked about his inner struggles.

With the aid of the Cavaliers organization, he was able to find a therapist, which, according to Love, was something he couldn’t have seen himself doing prior to the attack.

“I remember when I was two or three years into the league, a friend asked me why NBA players didn’t see therapists. I scoffed at the idea. No way any of us is gonna talk to someone. I was 20 or 21 years old, and I’d grown up around basketball. And on basketball teams? Nobody talked about what they were struggling with on the inside. I remember thinking, What are my problems? I’m healthy. I play basketball for a living. What do I have to worry about? I’d never heard of any pro athlete talking about mental health, and I didn’t want to be the only one. I didn’t want to look weak.”

After his appointment with the therapist, which alleviated his sense of discomfort with the situation, and due to recent comments made by fellow NBA player DeMar DeRozan concerning depression, Love decided to make his issues known to the general public. Addressing the process he went through to come to terms with his own experiences, Love made note of one central idea: “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.”

For Kevin Love, or any athlete in his position, confronting mental health issues is not an easy task. When we look to men and women in the world of professional sports, so often, it is for their actions, not their words, forcing them to conceal their true thoughts. But, as Love states, mental health is not solely a problem for athletes. Although not thrown into the limelight of athletes on the professional level, everyday people may feel the same inner conflicts. The ability to acknowledge one’s demons is a difficult one to develop, and the ability to inform others of them is even more toilsome. But, as Love states, oftentimes, people make dealing with their feelings harder than it needs to be.

“Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through. Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”

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