Rockets Rookie Royce White Battles Anxiety in the Brutal Spotlight of Pro Sports

Categories: Basketball, Sports

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Royce White
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe, feeling like you are suffering a heart attack. Your first instinct is to dial 911, but your hand is paralyzed, unable to move out of fear. You lay there, completely still, struggling with every breath without the power to speak. It's dark. You're alone. You think you are going to die.

That's what a panic attack feels like. I know. I used to suffer from them on a regular basis, which is why when I read the reports about Rockets rookie Royce White and his battles with generalized anxiety disorder, I could relate and I felt for him.

Yesterday, multiple reports and tweets from those attending training camp in McAllen described a frustrated Rockets staff, which included coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey. When pressed for answers on why White didn't attend media day or the first day of camp, the Rockets cited "personal matters." McHale seemed visibly frustrated simply saying, "He needs to be here."

Morey later released a statement, "We are committed to Royce's long term success and we will continue to support him now and going forward."

Fans on message boards and Twitter responded as fans do, with frustration and disappointment. His teammates seemed unaffected for the moment. Starting forward Chandler Parsons even said he texted and called him to offer his support. No one, including the Rockets, would say what these "personal matters" were, but White's very public battle with anxiety and the whispers of support from players would seem to indicate that battle is ongoing.

At Iowa State, White found a way to manage the debilitating fear that, at one point, even kept him from flying with the team. He played all of his last season there without incident and even joked about it with reporters after summer league games in Las Vegas earlier this year.

If White is indeed dealing with anxiety attacks at the moment, it is not only understandable he might be absent, but should be expected. White, who is long on talent but fell to the middle of the first round due to his "issues," has an illness. When Hakeem Olajuwon missed games due to an irregular heartbeat, a condition he had to manage throughout his playing career, no one blamed him. But generalized anxiety is much tougher for the average person to accept because most people can just get over it when they feel nervous.

This is especially true among professional athletes. Huge salaries, a massive spotlight and the belief that these men and women who train their bodies to perfection are nearly infallible makes the idea that something as innocuous-sounding as anxiety could keep them from performing seem ridiculous. It is embarrassing enough for the average person dealing with this illness, but it must be pure torture for a professional athlete.

For now, the Rockets say they will stand by White and offer support. They should. If another player had an illness that required managed treatment and occasionally flared up, they would understand. This is no different.

In my case, I was able to get treatment and overcome my anxiety, but not everyone is so fortunate. Some diseases are more virulent in certain people and the spotlight of professional athletics adds the crushing weight of expectation from more than just your friends and coworkers. Fortunately, White has access to the best medical care in the world. Let's hope the Rockets help him get it and he's able to get on with his life, on the court and off.

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