Imagine you are a poet who has carved out a successful career that has allowed you to gain a following and be known as one of the best in your field. Those within the poetry fraternity respect your craft and know how dope you are. You’ve been able to perform in front of large crowds as an opener for the main acts, but bookings have been sporadic at best because those main acts have elected to tour as a collective; filling the “we need a poet” void that any event may have.
You, an accomplished poet in your own right, watch as night after night that collective remains atop the poetry world. Then one day, before the touring season revs up, you get a call. That call is from the manager of that collection of poets, pitching the idea of you being a part of it. They sell the euphoria of you touring on the largest stages as a headliner while not being asked to compromise your style or considerable talents one bit. You are now in a position to decide. Do you stay on your own as a lone ranger, one who has competed in some ways with that collection of poets? Or do you join that group, knowing that your talents combined with their established name would be an unstoppable symbiotic relationship that would undoubtedly spark a significant reign over the poetry world and increase your visibility and opportunities?
The scenario above is very similar to the decision Kevin Durant faced in the summer of 2016, when he controversially decided to join the Golden State Warriors team that knocked his former OKC Thunder team out of the Western Conference Finals despite the Thunder being up 3-1.
The “Durant is weak” theory was strengthened when he admitted to joining the Warriors due to his need for validation from his peers. People used his moment of public vulnerability to stamp their notion that Kevin Durant is somehow this frail human being that left the alpha male, Russell Westbrook, because he couldn’t handle the pressure. They also converted from admiring Durant’s ability in last year’s NBA Finals to reducing those very same talents that yielded him another Finals MVP to a byproduct of being a part of an already great team.
Listen, let’s get one thing straight right here and right now: Kevin Durant is one of the best basketball players you or I have ever seen. That is something that cannot be debated. The hatred towards this man based on a decision he made, and subsequent piling on, is as weak as these people perceive KD to be. In fact, it is wrong. Flat out wrong.
Again, I was one of the founding members of the “that’s a soft move” brigade following Durant’s free agency decision, but I have since seen the errors of my judgment.
Would I make the same decision? Tough to say. I would like to think I wouldn’t, but I’m not Durant or any other athlete for that matter. However, him letting us into his thought process behind (and ultimate struggle due to) his decision to join a seemingly budding dynasty should be championed, not criticized. As men, we are not encouraged to speak on internal turmoil. So, when someone does it, the introspection is something to be praised.
These days, fans like to think they know athletes. Social media and around-the-clock coverage have brought us closer to athletes and celebrities than ever before, but we still do not know these people. And they are just that – people; people with baggage, struggles and shortcomings just like you and I. They are people with weaknesses and strengths, good days and bad days, moments of clarity, and times of complete confusion; humans made of flesh, blood, and bones, emotions, feeling and thoughts.
As fans, we have dehumanized athletes and projected our ideals of what they should do. We have seen numerous examples of overzealous fans cursing and hurling insults at athletes that they wouldn’t even consider spewing to the average person. Better yet, the ones involved in these actions certainly would not take kindly if roles were reversed.
Why do we assume athletes should, or have the wherewithal, to ignore negative comments and bad press, specifically when they don’t do anything wrong? Why do we believe that they can just deal with things? Because they’re millionaires? Because we assume their lives are without affliction due to their occupation and salary? Are we naïve enough to believe that money, fame, and apparent success is enough to heal any and all intrinsic damage done to the subconscious mind?
If that theory were true, celebrities would never commit suicide. I am not making light of those tragic events, nor am I comparing suicide to switching teams in the NBA. The link that ties the likes of Kevin Durant and other embattled celebs is the discussion of mental health. By no means am I here to diagnose anyone. That would be unfair on a multitude of levels. However, I am sure that people would be surprised how many athletes suffer from feelings of depression and anxiety. Accomplished athletes who seem to lead great, balanced lives, such as Ken Griffey Jr., have admitted to battling the invisible bully known as depression.
That’s just the thing, we don’t know exactly what triggers depression in these people. It is such an inexplicable phenomena that the person experiencing it is often unable to rationalize a viable reason for feeling what they do. Beyond that, the depth of the personal struggles of another being is impossible to gauge without actually knowing that person. Even then, one may not have a clue as to what another is going through.
This is what we do, though. We push our beliefs and flimsy principles on other people. In the case of KD, I wonder if it has occurred to those critiquing him for being “soft” that maybe he is a supremely talented human being that is more comfortable being one of the guys? Why is that wrong? Does every male need to be an Alpha male? Is it logical, or even fair, for us to think that since one has found an alleged safe haven in sports that all insecurities are to subside?
Ironically, many who claim to despise KD for making the decision he made, immediately scoured the rosters of every team in the league to see which players would fit best with LeBron James. They complained all year how LeBron’s teammates were not good enough to compete, and how Jordan never won without Pippen. In essence, they were agreeing with the fact that teammates are necessary. If you have the opportunity to choose your teammates because you have worked hard enough to be a sought after employee in your selected field, I would like to believe that most of us would choose the very best teammates possible. Why wouldn’t you? What is this false fascination with “doing it on your own?” Why does KD have to stay with his team for his rings to be validated, but it’s ok for any other athlete to switch teams and change rosters to their desire? Why do we project the idea of loyalty onto athletes that play for a team that would get rid of them if a newer, shinier product (person in this case) became available?
Irrational thought processes are what makes fans of a team who and what they are. Asking for a holistic, objective viewpoint is futile. There is nothing wrong with that. I would, however, like for us to consider athletes as people. Human beings with past scars stemming from traumatic experiences that they may not even know existed. Choosing to chastise athletes, specifically male athletes, for doing things that will improve their wellbeing, or speaking up on their struggles in any capacity is choosing to promote silence during struggles. Again, talking about feelings and internal struggles is not something that most dudes are encouraged to do. Many of us that look like the majority of the NBA have been taught since birth to “be a man.” Our feelings are brushed aside with the creed that we’ll be ok, or told to simply pray about it. The need for affirmation, that constant empty feeling of not doing enough, is one that is difficult to explain. It can lead you down a dark path of self-sabotage and ultimately start the cycle of depression. This is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the admittance of it is a braver act than to concede to the thoughts of others. Frequently, as is the case with KD, once vulnerability is shown, it is common practice to lash out to those that attack that vulnerability in order to reclaim the perception of strength and balance. Unfortunately, it is often seen as the opposite. Thus, the vicious cycle continues.
So, I pose the question: if the poet mentioned in the opening paragraph joins the touring group and that group breaks records and does arena dates because their stature was elevated by the new addition, should that advancement come with an asterisk? Should the poet that joined late be known as one that rode the coattails to a ring? What if that poet went from being one the best poets to being the best poet on the most renowned poetry tour of all time? Does that change things? Does he or she only carry that distinction because it’s easier to be good when your team is good? Are we now within our rights to diminish this amazing poet’s skill set?
Mental health is a real thing. We don’t know what one another has gone through or are experiencing now. I’m not telling you to like Kevin Durant or anyone else. That’s the not the issue here. The issue is humanity. We are all human. A person’s occupation and salary does not make them another species. They, like you and I, have a background, insecurities, imperfections, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They have experiences that have caused pain, triumph, and everything in between. Therefore, before assassinating the character of a person you do not know, be sure you have fully evaluated your own.