Changing the Game

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DeMar DeRozan Speaking Out on Mental Health Changed the NBA

DeMar DeRozan will go down as one of the most beloved players in Toronto Raptors history.

A former lottery pick who worked tirelessly on his game in order to turn himself into a bonafide, multiple time All-Star and the face of a franchise often forgotten in conversation. If you look at the Raptor record books, DeRozan’s finger prints will be just about everywhere, but his impact on the game will go far beyond his accomplishments on the court.

“This depression get the best of me.”

Back in 2018, DeRozan acknowledged his inner demons by tweeting out on his personal struggles and mental health issues, setting social media ablaze.

For a millionaire celebrity viewed by many kids as a superhero – an immortal superstar – DeRozan showed the bravery and courage to admit that even professional athletes struggle with their mental health. It’s never easy to admit that one is struggling, but DeRozan’s courage gave way to other athlete’s opening up about their struggles as well. Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers published a piece in the Players’ Tribune discussing his own personal demons.

In fact, athletes across all North American sports felt empowered to open up all thanks to DeRozan.

Now, two years later, DeRozan openness continues to have an impact on the NBA. Today, all 30 teams have their own psychologist on staff. The league has emphasized finding new ways and providing new resources to helping its players who continue to struggle with mental health.

“He changed a billion dollar business,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said over the weekend. “He changed it pretty much single-handedly [by] speaking out. And then obviously a lot of guys felt more comfortable, and that’s what it’s about. So for him to do that was huge and we won’t know the impact, we’ll never know the impact, but we just know that it’s a great impact that he had on the league and on guys, on players, coaching staff, whoever — that this is DeMar DeRozan and he goes through [expletive] like everybody else.

“I think that was big for him. It took a lot of guts and a lot of heart to do that, and it’s something that helped me in my personal life — feeling comfortable about some of those things — and it opened my eyes to things I was ignorant about. And I think it was special for him to do that.”

Behind DeRozan, the NBA has looked to help normalize the discussion of mental health and to this day, the league continues to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.

“I think it’s even more important now during the pandemic,” VanVleet said. “I think people’s mental health has kinda been pushed to the side a little bit, so I think it’s something we should all focus on a little bit more and keep at the forefront of all of our discussions.

“Obviously we’ve gotta worry about our physical health with this virus and all the other things going on, but our mental health has really been affected over these last 12 months and it’s something that we should all pay attention to and focus on individually and collectively.”

Now, in his 12th NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs star has a legacy unlike any other in the game.

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