Last Saturday night, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks bought out the contract of Larry Sanders, a promising young center who had decided to leave the league for what were reported as “personal reasons.” Yesterday, we found out more. In a blog post and video published on the Players’ Tribune, Sanders, who hasn’t played since late December, opened up about his decision, revealing that part of it had to do with his mental health. Sanders said that for some of the time he had “disappeared” from the public eye, he’d been in what sounds like an inpatient program for anxiety and depression:
Sanders doesn’t go into too much detail about his mental health — he’s also a guy who simply has interests outside of basketball that he wants to pursue — and certainly he’s under no obligation to delve into the particulars. But this is still a pretty important stepping-stone moment in helping people understand just how difficult anxiety and depression can be to deal with. A fair deal of the reaction to Sanders’s departure on Twitter and elsewhere has been angry: Here’s a guy who’s walking away from his team, for whom even millions of dollars earned playing pro basketball wasn’t enough.
But if you’re suffering with a truly disruptive manifestation of mental illness, that’s not how it works — no one has ever said, “Well, I have severe depression, but on the other hand I have a lot of professional success, so it’s all good!” Arguing that Sanders is selfish or misguided is a bit like telling a depressed friend to just cheer up: It’s the sort of sentiment that kind of makes sense when couched in the logic of healthy people, but which is nonsensical to the sufferer. A really depressed person can’t just cheer up; Larry Sanders, it sounds like, couldn’t just suck it up and play basketball.
Whatever Sanders ends up doing, and whether or not he one day plays pro basketball again, hopefully his decision to go public about his struggles will make it easier for other people going through similar difficulties to figure out a way to get the help they need.