Posted January 19, 2013

Royce White: I would be ‘risking my life’ by playing without health protocol

Ben Golliver, Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets, Royce White
royce-white-rockets

Royce White argues that a mental health protocol is a matter of life and death. (Fernando Medina/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

A Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel feature on Royce White, set to air on HBO on Tuesday, reveals documents that shed new light on the rookie forward’s dispute with the Rockets.

SI.com obtained an advance copy of the feature, which includes an on-camera interview of White conducted by Bernard Goldberg, excerpts from a five-page letter sent to White by Rockets GM Daryl Morey in November, and a portion of a mental health protocol that White and his doctor drafted and want inserted into his contract.

White, the No. 16 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has yet to play for the Rockets this season in a months-long dispute regarding the treatment of his mental health. White suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a fear of flying. White and the Rockets attempted to fashion a “good faith deal” to manage his health during the preseason and provide special travel arrangements, but White stopped showing up to practices and games in November and refused multiple assignments to the D-League. In January, the Rockets suspended White for “refusing to provide services.”

In recent interviews, White has said that Rockets management is “unqualified” to make determinations about his health because they are not mental health professionals and has said the franchise has been “inconsistent” in its support of him. He has sought a mental health protocol that would govern the Rockets’ treatment of him and a medical professional who would decide whether he was fit to play. The Rockets, to this point, have limited their public statements, saying that they hope to work with White to get him on the court.

To HBO, White painted the mental health protocol as a matter of life and death.

“If I was an NBA player now without the protocols and safety measures,” he said, “I would be risking my health, risking my life. What comes along with mental health if left untreated? Alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, those are things I’m not willing to risk to play basketball, to have money, to have fame. That’s it.”

He also stated that he understood that his hard-line position, which includes adding language to his contract, could cost him his NBA career.

“Yes,” he said, acknowledging that he might never play in the NBA. “But I’m not going to accept it without a fight.”

In the letter from Morey to White dated Nov. 20, roughly one week after White stopped attending practices and games, the Rockets GM said that his organization had “bent over backwards” to accommodate White’s travel requests, noted that White had been less than truthful in disclosing his fear of flying before the 2012 Draft, and indicated that White needed to show up for practices and games “just like any other player.”

Here’s the excerpt of the letter.

This seems to be a good time for us to step back and think about some of the issues that we have been dealing with over the past few months. As we have told you repeatedly, our goals are for you to be fully integrated into the Team and to have a healthy and productive season, both on and off the court. We have been committed to these goals from the day we drafted you, and have acted consistently with those goals ever since. We have bent over backwards to accommodate your requests and help you meet these goals. At our meeting yesterday, I spent significant time addressing your frustrations. I would like to take this opportunity to further explain how your actions and the changing nature of your explanations for your actions has frustrated our attempts to help you meet your goals. The bottom line is that we remain willing to work with you on issues that arise from legitimate medical need, but you have to come to games, practice and everything else that you are able to do, just like any other player.

To revisit from the beginning, before we drafted you, you told us that your fear of flying was not an issue and that you were ready to be an NBA player. Shortly after we drafted you, you apologized for having to mislead us. You later indicated that you were feeling anxious about flying to the NBA’s rookie orientation program this summer. When you missed your scheduled flight, we arranged for a later flight and for Matt Brase to travel with you, working with the NBA to accommodate your concerns. Shortly after that, we informed you that we thought it would be beneficial for you to meet with Dr. Aaron Fink, a world-renowned psychiatrist, who could provide you with access to an appropriate professional in Houston to help should any situations arise. We gave you Dr. Fink’s contact information and several available times for an interview.

White admitted that he had missed practices, games and other function but said that his mental health was a “medical reason” for his absence and that it should be excused like any other physical ailment.

“I have not always showed up for practice, but every time I didn’t show up for practice, there was a medical reason,” he said. “Some player doesn’t show up for practice because of his knee, they say he didn’t show up to practice because of his knee. [In my case,] they just say he didn’t show up for practice [and it sounds like] it’s your fault.”

Prompted by Goldberg that perhaps many people “wouldn’t want to hear” about an anxiety disorder sidelining him, White responded: “I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hear that James Harden broke his ankle either, but there’s a health reality that exists.”

He continued: “If your orthopedist says Royce’s left toe has a crack in it, he shouldn’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight, you can’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight. The only difference is you can’t see mine. There’s no swelling, so to speak. It’s not purple.”

The solution to this dilemma, White believes, is “a medical point person who will remain neutral and keep the interests in health,” a medical professional who would have the ultimate authority, even over Rockets managements and coaches, to determine whether he is fit to play.

White hoped to formalize this approach by drafting a mental health protocol with his doctor that would be inserted into his contract. A portion of that document was revealed during the HBO feature.

In order for the working conditions to be safe and healthy for someone with mental illness/disability, it is the belief of the medical experts and myself credited for this document that a protocol has to be developed on how to appropriately deal with an individual in respect to mental illness(s)/disabilities from an operational and medical standpoint. A protocol will not only ensure the safe and healthy work conditions for a player like myself with mental illness, but also will lend a system of accountability for both the team and I to use to base what is the appropriate route of action.

Due to the lack of protocol regarding mental illness, this agreed upon document will serve as an addendum to insert into the medical category of the contract and team rules.

Acknowledgment: Acknowledging mental illness/disability as being in the category of medical condition.

The video feature also shows White struggling with anxiety in a number of daily situations. While driving, he admits he’s nervous because he’s afraid his fellow motorists are texting while driving. Showing off his closet, in which his jackets, shirts and shoes are precisely organized, he says that his hat collection is a particular source of stress.

“My hangers are spaced immaculately, all my suits are facing the same way,” he explains. “The item in here of all my clothes and belongings that gives the most anxiety for me is these hats. They’re easily misplaced, displaced. It’s a round shape on a square hook. Geometrically it messes with me, which is why I’m very careful when I pull them out of the closet. I don’t want to have to spend 20 minutes having to fix it. I’d prefer if you don’t [touch them].”

He opens up about his fear of flying and says that being on an airplane feels like he’s stuck inside a “steel death trap.”

“I get nervous when people talk about planes,” he says. “Realistically, right now I am nervous talking about it. You ever had butterflies for a long, long time? It starts to build up. Then the other things come, sweaty palms, faster heartbeat, throwing up, almost feeling like I’m going to pass out from being light-headed has come before. All of these things happen before I even get to the airport.”

Basketball is not totally omitted. White is shown working out in a gym and reviewing footage of his play for Iowa State during the 2012 NCAA tournament against the University of Kentucky and eventual No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis. After one sequence, White can be seen on the replay mouthing words to the crowd.

“I said I’m the best player in the country,” White remembers. “I knew that at the time. I abused [Davis] all game. I didn’t just dunk on him, I abused their whole team all game.”

Kentucky beat Iowa State 87-71 before proceeding to win the tournament. White finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block  in 34 minutes. Davis finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 40 minutes.

Even with that moment of braggadocio, White’s message to HBO was that his approach to his dispute with the Rockets should be perceived on human terms, rather than basketball terms.

“Why does my worth need to be measured by how many rebounds I’ve clocked? I’m saying something true, why does it need a rebound accompanying it?”

Because you’re a basketball player, Goldberg says, supplying the obvious counterargument.

“I’m a human being,” White replies immediately. “That’s it.”

24 comments
EdwinaLorres
EdwinaLorres

Life can be very displeasing especially when we loose the ones we love and cherish so much. in this kind of situation where one loses his/her soul mate there are several dangers engage in it. one may no longer be able to do the things he was doing before then success will be very scarce and happiness will be rare. that person was created to be with you for without him things may fall apart.
That was my experience late last year. but thank god today i am happy with him again. all thanks to DR AKPAKPA, i was nearly loosing hope until i saw an article on how DR AKPAKPA could cast a love spell to make lovers come back. There is no harm in trying, i said to my self. i contacted him via email: afiamensolutionshrine@yahoo.com. words will not be enough to appreciate what he has done for me. i have promised to share the good news as long as i live.

BESTY ADAMS

jshin111954
jshin111954

The Rockets pay this so-called basketball player his salary.And he wants to act like a BOY

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Oh no the team is going to make him smoke weed!  What a loser ghetto leech!

ClarkLi
ClarkLi

This is a non-story if not for White aggressively making a public issue out of it.  This is simple, The Rockets of course knew about his mental problems.  They drafted him knowing he'd get a rookie guaranteed contract and their intent was to get him to play through his mental illness.  White's right in this regard - mental illness is the same as a physical injury - AND teams have asked players to play through injury!  This is an indisputable fact.  Players are often expected to play while hurt and the Rockets expect White to play while being nuts.  Every team takes a financial risk on a player when they draft them because any player can get hurt.  And every player takes a health risk every time they suit up to play.  White has a right to refuse to play of course but he can't expect the team to not discipline him just as they would any other player who refuses to play.  White can't claim that it is the same in one sense and different in another - a risk is a risk and if White expects to be an NBA player he is going to have to take the risk because the Rockets don't owe him anything more, either from a contractually legal basis or a moral basis.  

lindo_Cafe
lindo_Cafe

I feel bad for him, but he is making this impossible for the Rockets. Why doesnt he start just playing home games for them, to ease his way into doing trips. Or put the dude to sleep before flying. There must be SOMETHING he can do. If not, he should retire. This dude has some GREAT talent, but he need to make a descision.

MayurBhagat
MayurBhagat

I wonder if he had any anxiety attacks when he got all those tatoos done. He chose to be a basketball player, he had to be a succesful college athlete, but now that he gets paid for it. He has a luandry list of issues. I think as a proffesional athlete, he has to try to be somewhat proactive to get to where he wants to be as pro athlete. He is really limiting the options for his team. He has a gift that very few people have and I feel like he's not taking advantage of it. Houston has the worlds largest medical center, I can't believe  both partys have not fully utilize the resources houston has to offer. So can my short height and short arms be considered a disabilty lol. I gonna have to contact the ADA for this one.

Ryan1
Ryan1

I applaud him putting his mental health first, given what we saw just recently in KC, he is acknowledging he has issues and wants to ensure he puts that first, and that is the responsible thing to do.

 

That being said, he misled the team prior to the draft, they took him, and now he has issues. If he mis-led them, then the fault lies with him. Had he been forthcoming about all this, no way he goes in the first round.

 

The mental problems he has are his own, and the rockets shouldn't be obligated to take them on.

MrBevolicious
MrBevolicious

if he can't play because of his anxiety, the team doesn't need to sign a protocol. they would be better off cutting him and moving on. imagine if a cashier at walmart refused to show up every other day because of anxiety, or refused to bag toiletries, lawn equipment and televisions because that contributed to his anxiety. would walmart accommodate him, and make a separate "no toiletries, lawn equipment, or televisions" checkout line? i doubt it. 

 

Joel10
Joel10

I acknowledge the mental issues involved, but to not show up for practices and games? And to refuse assignment to McAllen of the D-League? Sorry, I'm taking the team's side on this one. It's one thing to accommodate, and quite another for this guy to play the team like they are his b---h.

brent_strong
brent_strong

I think it would be reasonable to ask that this be handled similarly to concussions - where the NBA does employ an expert who can rule whether a player is fit to play or not.  I also think White is handling the situation very poorly and pursuing a worthy goal (caring for mental health similarly to physical health) in a way that won't yield much progress.

eddie577
eddie577

The guy is not keeping his end of the bargain. He signed a contract to play and he is failing to meet that agreement. He basically is stealing from the Rockets. People in this country are hungry, homeless, and jobless. At that want you to do is play 30 minutes of basketball 3 to 4 times a week for 5 months. It's not even "real" work.

buckustoothnail
buckustoothnail

What a wasted pick. The Rockets took a chance on this fool and he shows his gratitude by creating drama and trying to sabotage his team. This dude is just another prima donna that hasn't done squat but thinks he should be treated like a superstar.  Worse, he gives a terrible name to real people actually struggling with "mental health" issues that have no choice but to deal with it and do their jobs, no matter their "handicap". Now what employer that's seen his situation and what the Rockets have had to deal with will want to take that leap of faith and hiring someone with these disabilities?  Royce screwed over all the people he has tried to "represent" by being the epitome of the "wrong hire". The Rockets just need to cut their losses and cut loose this fool. This guy will never be a winner, never be a leader in the locker room, and will have a meltdown at the first hint of adversity. Good luck trying to succeed in the NBA when you can't take the slightest touch of pressure.

westmix
westmix

I understand his concern, my point is then don't play basketball, get a real 9 to 5 job like most people. Sorry you have a problem but why does the sports team take on responsibility to support you and your issue. Why is he trying to pursue something that he knows he can't do? Another spoiled professional athlete that wants everyone to let him do what he wants!

Shing D
Shing D

The problem is that White has never had the proper mental health care. His mental health issues are quite significant, which no general practitioner is qualified to treat. So establishing a "protocol" at this stage will do no good. He needs to be treated by the properly qualified experts FIRST...then target a protocol. He's simply not fit in any regard to play professional sports. It's fine to have sympathy for his mental health issues, but no one in the Rockets organization should have to suffer or otherwise be impacted by it. He's got some major entitlement issues which is also part of his IMPROPERLY treated mental health illness.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

He signed a contract that asked if he had any conditions that would prohibiting him performing his job.   He lied on that, he had a pre-existing condition that he did not disclose fully.

sugaslim
sugaslim

y dont they do what the ateam did to ba baracas. get lin and harden to talk to him to put him at ease and then mchale jumps him from behind with the chloroform. next stop new york city . seems flawless to me. as long as he doesnt know he flew then wheres the harm?? either that or have someone drive him across the country like madden did in his custom bus. once he drives from la to new york i bet his fear of flying wont b an issue

GaryL
GaryL

In other words, White wants to have a contract that he can decide when he wants to play.

Yankee0359
Yankee0359

If he's that mentally aware of his problems and really has concerns over his issues - why did he persue a BBall Career instead of checking himslef into a mental institution.  Answer is:  because he's full of s&%t and wanted the money.  And where are his concerned parents besides out spending whatever money he's received so far.  You're right eddiej - if i'm the Rockets i'd sue him ans send him back to the s**thole he came from.

 

eddiej
eddiej

Who is he to tell the rockets what to do.he lied about his supposed problems,then blames them.release him and sue for the pay he stole from them

thekana
thekana

Release him and cut your loses

scBlais
scBlais

 @Ryan1 I remember the stories about him while he was in school.  He never hid his illness.  If the Rockets were going to take him, they knew at the very least he had an illness and if they were unsure what that meant they should have investigated it.

winocarpenter
winocarpenter

 @MrBevolicious No, Walmart would just hire an illegal immigrant to replace him for subhuman  wages. I suppose the world might be a better place if more organizations used Walmart as a model for ethical business practices. Good analogy, though. 

scBlais
scBlais

 @SukeMadiq His illness was well documented long before he arrived in the NBA.  They even ran a feature on him and how he handled it during March Madness last year.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

 @scBlais 

But he got his welfare taking butt on the court and played in college didn't he?  In front of thousands of people.