Delonte West highlights mental health failings

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Ray Burton
Ray writes mostly in-depth analytical pieces covering a range of sports from a more statistical perspective drawing his inspiration from the fanalytics movement. Ray writes on the NFL, Premier League, MLB, NHL, NBA, and NRL.

Former NBA star Delonte West was involved in a violent altercation yesterday that left him bloodied and beaten lying in the middle of the road. Despite a successful career, West has fallen through the cracks of a sporting culture that spares little time for mental health issues.

The former first-round talent played in the NBA for 9 seasons, making stops in Boston, Seattle, Cleveland, and Dallas. Diagnosed as bipolar in 2008, just 4 years after entering the league with the number 24 pick, West struggled to settle at any of the stops along the way.

His longest spell with a team, after his diagnosis, was in Cleveland where he played 93 games over 3 seasons. He was out of the league at 29 and has struggled with his mental health since his diagnosis. Delonte West was seen in 2016 in public barefoot and wearing a hospital gown, and later that year was seen panhandling. West denied at the time that he was homeless.

The latest incident for Delonte West

Video circulated on Twitter yesterday of West in a violent altercation with someone he apparently knew. Reports seem to suggest Delonte West started the incident but was then subjected to a violent beating. He was subsequently handcuffed and photographed by a police officer, with that picture also circulating on Twitter.

A number of Delonte West’s former teammates took to Twitter to offer their support, and to call for greater awareness of mental health issues. However, West’s condition has been known for a long time and the help he requires has been far from forthcoming.

The problem is that a great deal of lip service is paid to mental health issues in sports, but very little actually gets done from a practical perspective. Despite several high profile incidents including the suicide of 18-year-old British Snowboarder Ellie Soutter in 2018, little has changed.

At the time, Soutter’s father blamed the pressure on athletes for his daughter’s struggles. However, even this is an oversimplification. Athletes do have excessive amounts of pressure heaped on them in their sports, but they also have to deal with the same personal pressures as everyone else on top of that.

British snowboarder Ellie Soutter took her own life on her eighteenth birthday © Tony Soutter
British snowboarder Ellie Soutter took her own life on her eighteenth birthday © Tony Soutter

Delonte West was diagnosed back in 2008. That’s more than 11 years ago. For all the talk of his ex-teammates saying they will help him, he has been struggling with his issues alone for a very long time. Mental health is the silent killer that is being brushed under the carpet and only brought out when we have tragic incidents like these.

Until we as a society demand better mental health services for everyone, cases like Delonte West’s and Ellie Soutter’s with continue to pop up in our timelines. The sad fact is that most will forget about them in the coming days or weeks.

Mental health is a daily struggle for many athletes, and fans, and is something we need to address on an ongoing, daily basis. The FA this launched their own campaign this year to try and bring the issue more into the spotlight, however, much more still needs to be done.

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