BNM Summit
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Jim Cutler Voiceovers
BNM Summit
Ramsey Solutions


Here We Are Debating Mental Health Again When We Don’t Have To

It’s a choice to turn the trade of Ben Simmons into a discussion of his mental health.
A choice that I think is unfortunate and unfair for reasons that I’ll get into, but one that is entirely unnecessary.

You can offer so many opinions, argue about so many aspects of how his tenure in Philadelphia ended without having to question his mental health or doubt the severity of the difficulties he may have faced.

- Advertisement -

He decided he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia anymore. Was that a sign of his inability to face the weaknesses in his game? Perhaps it was evidence the franchise mismanaged this player?

He was able to essentially force a trade by refusing to report to work. Is that evidence of players possessing too much power over where they play or a reality that teams have to adjust to? Is it fair for a player to force a trade? Should the team have forced him to report before dealing him?

Will Simmons be better off without Embiid? Will the Sixers be better off without Simmons?
Each of those angles offer an opportunity to explore what happened, to scrutinize the motivations and actions. None require you to make a judgment on another individual’s mental health in a situation where it’s all but certain you don’t have the necessary information nor the expertise to make an informed assessment.

It’s a choice to turn the trade into a referendum on Simmons’s mental health as Howard Eskin did.

A couple of things to consider.

1) We don’t know how someone else is feeling in general.

A video clip of someone appearing happy isn’t proof that he’s fine now, and it doesn’t tell us how that person was feeling in the past. One of the truly difficult things about having a mental-health condition is that when you do get to a place where you feel better — which is what everyone should hope for, that your condition improves — there’s an underlying suspicion that it must not have been so bad to begin with if you’re fine now.

2) We don’t know how Simmons felt specifically.

There’s virtually no public record. Simmons himself has not talked about the issue no the record. Team officials have been diplomatic. Any attempt to reconstruct what happened requires sifting through contradictory reports that are rife with anonymous sources and also account for the clear conflicts of interest that can be observed in the summaries from nationally prominent reporters.

3) There’s a problem with the terminology here.

Eskin uses the term “mental illness,” which refers to a disorder or psychiatric problem. It is NOT a synonym for mental health. To my knowledge, Simmons has never discussed a diagnosis of mental illness. In fact, I have not seen Simmons discuss his mental health in anything but very general terms. After Simmons failed to report to the Sixers this season, his agent — Rich Paul — said reporting to the team was not conducive to his mental health, but never used the term “mental illness.” Is Eskin offering a diagnosis himself here? Is he relaying one? Or is he just being sloppy — and I would say reckless — with his terminology?

4) What are the limits of discussion someone else’s mental health?

I’m not talking legality or made-up HIPAA concerns. Let’s take the subject away from Simmons here because we don’t know the specifics. I have dealt with depression most of my adult life. I was formally diagnosed 15 years ago, I’ve taken daily medication for more than 10 years. I’m comfortable talking about this, but what if I wasn’t? Is it ethical to talk about the fact I have depression if that’s not something I want disclosed publicly? Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.

There are some facts of a person’s life that we generally agree are theirs to disclose. A disease like cancer can be one. Instances of abuse. A family tragedy. In the media it’s considered wrong to “out” someone by discussing their sexual orientation if they haven’t indicated they’re comfortable discussing that publicly thought I want to make it clear I’m not equating sexual orientation to a condition or saying it should be something someone is reluctant to discuss. I am simply pointing out that there are specific personal facts that we generally agree are private unless the individual chooses to make them public.

5) The hogwash about this being an insult to people who really suffer from mental illness.

While it’s possible that someone who suffers from a mental-health condition will be angry at the possibility that someone would use that as an excuse, it’s much more likely that someone with a mental-health condition would look at the way Simmons has been scrutinized — and in this case attacked — and decide it’s better to suffer in silence than to have someone with Eskin’s platform posting a short video of Simmons and pointing to it as proof that any mental-health concerns were overblown and maybe even outright invented.

Howard had company, though. Here’s his WIP colleague Glenn Macnow.

And another guy with lots of consonants in his last name:

It doesn’t have to be like this, guys. Honest. You can be mad that Simmons decided not to play for your team anymore. You can say that it’s really about his fear of failure or his inability to be a complementary piece to Joel Embiid. You can say that you think it’s wrong a player is able to force a trade the way Simmons did.

Are you really that mad the Philadelphia 76ers may have paid his salary in these months he didn’t play? Because usually, people don’t care about the money the owners spend. The money they don’t spend? Yes, that can be infuriating, but it’s unusual to see so many people furious about the money they do spend except in this case because it’s going to a guy that plenty of people don’t like. I guess they want to see him suffer so badly they’re angry at the suggestion he’s already suffered. It’s that last part that is unfortunate and utterly unnecessary.

None of us really knows what Simmons has gone through and what he has felt. We don’t even know what he’s told the team. We know what some national reporters — with a clear bias toward his agent — have reported. We know what some folks like Eskin have said, presumably reflecting the team’s skepticism. But we don’t know how Simmons actually felt, and if you’re so mad at him that you’re incapable of realizing the limits of your own information then that’s something you should probably spend some time thinking about. Questioning someone else’s mental health is a choice, and it’s an entirely unhealthy one in my opinion.

Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at [email protected].

Popular Articles