We know that the mental health of Americans has become increasingly important because of the intersection between COVID, racial unrest, and all that comes with life even before their onset. The intersection of our mental health with sports has always been important because the competitions provide a haven of hope if only for four quarters, two halves, or nine innings. Despite our deep concerns for the safety of college and professional athletes, I am afraid to think of what might happen if we didn’t have sports to entertain us. While the games are critical to the mental health of our country, the hiatus of Kyrie Irving after the January 6 insurgence on the US Capitol might have done more for the future mental health of Black Americans than all the NBA games this season combined.
When Kyrie decided to take time away from the game on January 7th, I like some others decided to cut him a little slack given the gravity of what happened on “the 6th”. I live 10 miles from the Capitol and sat home in horror at what unfolded on an international stage. It was not just a form of domestic terrorism, but I, like many of my Black and Brown brothers and sisters, wondered what the event would have looked like if the terrorists were Black and Brown. Maybe “Bloody Sunday” on the Selma Bridge? The insurgence on the Capitol was depressing, anxiety provoking, and traumatic – my mental health wasn’t on par on January 6th and quite honestly it hasn’t been the same since.
Basketball fans everywhere had patiently waited for Kyrie and Kevin Durant to play together. After the James Harden trade, I too started to grow impatient with Kyrie. Kyrie makes millions and sports is my Ibuprofen for COVID and the racial unrest, so I thought “Kyrie get over it”. Then Stephen A. Smith, who I think the world of, suggested that Kyrie should retire. Next, Charles Barkley suggested that Kyrie should grow up. Then I thought, Kyrie is 28 eight years old. When Sir Charles was 28 (in 1997 when he was a Houston Rocket) he threw a man through a glass window in an Orlando bar over a cup of ice. Over a cup of ice? I adored Charles Barkley as a player and appreciate him as a civic-minded, retired professional athlete, but how the hell is professing that Kyrie should grow up?
That’s when I thought that Kyrie, despite his assertions that the world is flat, might be one of the most grown-up players in professional sports. Mr. Irving sacrificed almost over $800,000.00 to protect, ensure, and preserve his mental health and to spend time fulfilling his role as a brother. Remember, Sir Charles declared that athletes should not be role models. However, when it comes to athlete’s addressing their mental health (and handling their family business) Kyrie Irving is now a role model.
“I'm a hometown kid, so you know things hit a little different when family and personal stuff going on and that's up to me to handle that as a man.” -Kyrie Irving
Screaming A. Smith (who is 53 and unmarried) declared “Kyrie Irving has not prioritized basketball”. That is true Screaming A. … Irving prioritized his mental health and his family.
Because I've had some interactions with the Irving family, I should have initially understood that not only was Kyrie doing what was right for his personal wellness, he was upholding the values instilled in him by Drederick, Asia, Rod, Danette, and the rest Irving family. In my few, but “true” interactions with the Irving’s, I was authentically amazed at how they dealt with the adversities of life – they kept things in the real locker room - in the family. I learned that, most times, the best mental health therapy is being with your family!
Since Irving’s return, he has handled his business on the court too by averaging 27 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Still, the stats upon his return are not what’s most important.
What is most important is that during some of the most trying times in our country, and in our families, Irving showed us that despite sports being hailed as one anecdote for our mental health that nothing trumps self-care and family – period - dot. After an 11-day, seven-game absence, when Irving returned to the Nets, he shared that he was happy to be back after a “pause” that he needed after handling some “family and personal stuff”.
You might not like Kyrie because he is a really good basketball player or because he has opinions that differ from yours, but right now, we should all take time to take care of our families and our personal stuff… and be a role model - like Kyrie.