Posted January 04, 2013

Rockets’ White finally finds the right medium for his message

Houston Rockets, Rob Mahoney, Royce White
Royce White

The Rockets selected Royce White with the 16th overall pick. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Rob Mahoney

Royce White and the Rockets have yet to come to a mutual understanding when it comes to the intersection of pro athlete responsibilities and the complications created by White’s diagnosed anxiety disorder — a disconnect that has seriously called into question whether White will play NBA basketball this season or at all. It’s a scenario that’s incited quite a bit of backlash against White in public circles, if only because of the lack of a point of reference; although plenty of players throughout NBA history could be classified with some diagnosis or another, mental health has rarely been broached in professional basketball on serious, precedent-setting terms. Previous eras in both pro sports and American culture at large valued those who did their jobs without complaint and fell in line despite all factors, but as our understanding of psychological disorder has evolved, so too have the grounds changed with regard to identifying risk factors and optimal treatment plans for those with diagnosed conditions. White has every right to push for the plan that will be most conducive to his well-being, even if his actions can be grossly oversimplified as a player refusing to report.

What made matters worse is that White had become part of the problem, at least when it came to the public perception of his situation. Twitter has largely been White’s medium of choice in communicating information regarding his position with the Rockets, but a poorly planned message broadcast in 140-character bursts exacerbated an already dicey situation. White’s tweets came off as platitudes and generalities rather than a cogent perspective. Hashtagging tweets with “#HONESTY” or “#Truth” doesn’t make them any more meaningful, especially when White failed to honestly or truthfully convey the specific qualms he had with the Rockets’ approach on his own terms.

Since then, more substantial methods of communication have given White a better foundation for the stance he hopes to convey and a chance to legitimately turn the coverage of his story. A written statement gave an overview of some of White’s needs, but his most compelling case yet came via radio interview — a forum that gave his trial a real, human voice. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop transcribed some of White’s discussion with Justin Termine and Mateen Cleaves from the SiriusXM show “Off the Dribble,” the most intriguing of which is this:

“The reality is that it is not Houston’s fault. As much as we always want to try and blame one side or the other and try and find the black and white in it, it’s not black and white. It’s gray. And they’ve been thrown into a position now where they’re forced to make things up as they go because a protocol has not been put in place for mental health up until this point. And that’s tough for anybody to do. If there were no safety or health codes on how to construct a building, the people who are going to try to build a building tomorrow are going to be in trouble. That’s just the reality here so I don’t really think going to another team is something that would be better. And it’s not something that I want to do. I want to play for Houston. I love the city of Houston. Since I’ve been here the fans have been nothing but supportive — that I’ve met in person. Twitter has been different. The fans that I’ve met in person have been supportive. The community here is great. I have a lot of friends that work in the organization, in the building, that aren’t even related to practice or the game, so to speak. So I have no intention or desire to play for another team.”

Whereas Twitter harbors an inherent simplification, allowing White to speak his mind at greater length has given his stance the necessary nuance. White seems sincere, and comes off as a player seeking resolution rather than blame. He also offered a bit more clarity regarding what he’s looking for from Houston:

“The protocol [advocated by White] actually calls for medical professionals to have executive authority in medical situations regarding mental health. And that is something that’s been declined. So basically I’m fighting to have that rectified. I just don’t think it is OK or responsible or even logical to have GMs or any front office personnel have executive authority in medical situations.”

“This is about — in general — who has executive authority in medical incidents or on everyday operations because the reality here is that it’s just not logical for somebody like Daryl Morey, for example, who is my GM, to say yea or nay on anything regarding medical situations. And that’s kind of where the rule stands now, is that a GM has the right to decline the medical recommendations of even their own doctors. And that’s just not safe to me.”

It’s not about his fear of flying and it’s not about his recent D-League assignment. From White’s perspective, all that’s required is putting judgment on mental health issues in the hands of mental health professionals, in the same way that a team would likely trust its own doctors in treating a more overtly physical ailment. Even if you don’t agree with White, he at least represents his complete view so that we might actually have a discussion on the subject, as opposed to hinting at his perspective in vague bursts of social media.

This is a reasonable stance from a thoughtful player. That it’s taken us this long to get a clear and complete articulation of the problem is hardly optimal, but one can hope that a more informative turn to the discussion (via both statement and interview) can at least help impatient basketball fans to more fully understand what’s at stake for White and what’s being asked of the Rockets.

10 comments
KalEl
KalEl

I know how to make this work. White can only play road games between Dallas, San Antonio and Oklahoma where he can drive or take the bus.  The other road games he has to stay home and pray for the success of his team.

Youravgjoe
Youravgjoe

Neither side of this dispute is crazy. White's position is reasonable to me. Other than for small employers who are exempt from most labor laws, employers are generally required to make accommodations so long as they are reasonable. Mental health specialists and doctors need to make medical and mental health decisions not GMs. That being said, no GM should be required to wait forever. At some point Houston has the right  to decide to cut bait (but a GM should not be empowered to make the medical decision). I hope it doesn't come to that. If they are patient, they may end up with a talented player who appreciates the organization's willingness to stand behind him. It sounds like Houston is perilously close to losing out on all of the good will they accumulated earlier. I guess they were just unrealistic about the nature and severity of White's anxiety issues.

playingitout
playingitout

This was a good article, until this: "This is a reasonable stance from a thoughtful player." Beg to differ, sir. This is an UNreasonable stance from a bona fide unstable player. Why? Let me put it as simply as I can, by comparing this case to other "medical" situations. Ask yourself this: What would happen if a player had a physical problem so severe that he needed a doctor with him at all times, making all decisions that relate to that player's activity for the team? Think.... think some more.... and here's the answer: HE WOULD NEVER PLAY FOR ANY PROFESSIONAL OR NON-PROFESSIONAL TEAM ON THE PLANET. Because that is an impossible condition. And if any player is so sick/injured as to REQUIRE such a thing, then that player is NOT qualified to play organized basketball. End of story.

 

These demands this guy is making are ridiculous, and impossible. And since he insists on making them as loudly and often as possible -- I believe that makes HIM ridiculous, and impossible to deal with. The end result of this tragi-comedy can only be White's expulsion from this team.... whereupon I guarantee that no other team will so much as take a call from his agent, much less ever consider taking him on again.

Chanyongsen
Chanyongsen

Rob Mahoney, pls dont make this case looks like a gray area. Its all obvious. White wants to be pampered and catered in HIS own way! Rockets already accomodates too much for white. They drafted him when noone else wanted him. It was daryl morey error. Rockets put all the medical helps they could, but white chose his own. And when rockets ask him only to play for The Vipers, he also refused. Royce needs to look in a real world. To play in the nba is a privilege, not a right. If he try to get another job somehere else, he wont get special treatment. Cant take the risk? Dont apply for that job. Enough stories of this loser. Lots of people with disabilities face difficulties too, yet they MAN up! Morey got conned!

Shing D
Shing D

Why doesn't White post the signed contract in PDF form so we can see for ourselves who said what, who signed what, etc.

raraku12
raraku12

I still Don't get what he whats form that statement. Is the Rockets own medical staff telling the coach and Gm that giving him more playing time will help with his mental condition?

Youravgjoe
Youravgjoe

 @playingitout I disagree completely. Players get serious season ending injuries all the time. When a player tears an mcl, the GM doesn;t decide hw ling he is willing to wait for him to return. The doctors make the call. Its sucks to be a GM in that position, but sometimes that's reality. Folks who think mental health issues can just be overcome by the individual "deciding" one day to toughen up have never struggled with mental health issues or dealt in any meaningful way with someone struggling with mental health issues. White is right that doctors not GMs should make the call. Houston can either be patient or cut bait. Cutting bait, will come back to haunt them even if it takes 2 years for White to overcome his anxiety. Even then its likely he will have a long productive career. 

supermerde
supermerde

 @raraku12 i think it's pretty clear what he wants:  he wants a stipulation giving final authority in matters of mental health, to mental health professionals.  the reason he is refusing to report to his d-league assignment (as well as the reason he has refused to practice), is because management is refusing to concede that point.  he isnt asking for more playing time:  he is refusing to suit up until his mental health situation is addressed.  

DannyLopez
DannyLopez

 @supermerde  @raraku12 from what I've read in other sites, however, is that such a stipulation would violate the current CBA. Even if the Rockets thought it was a good idea in principle, they would violate the agreement in place with the Players Association.

Youravgjoe
Youravgjoe

 @DannyLopez  @supermerde  @raraku12 I heard that true. I think one issue is that White wants his Dr, the person who actually treats him to make the decision as opposed to a Team doctor on the Rockets payroll who isn't treating him reading his file and making a recommendation to the GM who then makes the decision. Apparently the CBA requires that the medical person making the decision is the Rockets' team doc. If that's true, it should be changed.