Lamar Odom entered the NBA with high hopes. Despite his short college career that was clouded by an arrest in Las Vegas, Lamar had talent that was much desired and was picked 4th in the 1999 NBA draft by the Clippers. Lamar’s story is similar to many athletes that rose above the crime ridden streets of their childhoods to fame. With basketball talent that has been compared to Magic Johnson, the then 19 year old entered the NBA and began living a life of luxury However, shortly after he was suspended for marijuana usage. That was the beginning of a 14 year career that he mostly spent in L.A. playing for the Lakers or the Clippers. His game was good and he won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011 and landed two NBA titles. Though he held his own on the courts, Lamar’s personal life began to suffer tragedy. He lost a son due to crib death in 2006 that caused him to consider leaving the NBA. As time passed, life began looking better for him and in 2009, viewers watched the spectacular wedding between him and Khloe Kardashian. However, by 2013, the marriage deteriorated and it was revealed that Lamar continued to struggle with substance abuse and that he suffered from depression. Shortly after, he was traded from the Lakers and sources reported that he was devastated.
Now as we all wait and pray that he pulls through, Lamar is fighting for his life. On October 13, 2015, he was found unconscious at a legal brothel in Nevada. While blood sample results have not been released, the media is suggesting that he was abusing cocaine and an herbal sexual enhancement drug. He is reported to be on life support and slowly making improvements.
What sparked this alleged “drug binge”? Lamar reportedly lost two close friends due to drug abuse several months prior and was described as suicidal. Some say that he never recovered from being traded by the Lakers. Others report that he was distraught about the way he was being represented in a recent episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. Media reports that Lamar blamed negative publicity for his career failing and for his bleak state. Regardless of what sparked the recent Nevada incident, no one can argue that Lamar had his fair share of difficulties over the years that could easily result in a depressed state.
Depression and Substance Abuse
Depression and substance abuse in athletes are not uncommon. Hays (1999) indicated that athletes endure pressures that may increase their susceptibility to deviant behaviors. He suggested that athletes may abuse substances to cope with the strain of the athletic environment. The pressure to perform and a fear of letting down teammates are among the myriad of emotions that an athlete may experience. Couple these emotions with a young, inexperienced player and the probability of engaging in substance abuse as a means of coping may increase. While athletes are greatly compensated for their abilities, money is not a cure-all for emotional problems or mental health. Leno (2007) postulated that wealth may give rise to conflict and also increase the likelihood of depression in athletes. Though society has gained a greater understanding of depression, athletes are often encouraged to conceal emotional difficulties and problems as the consequences may be severe and produce a damaged reputation. As a result, athletes may engage in substance abuse to self-treat an underlying mental health disorder.
Killing the Stigma
While there has been gains in understanding mental health across the nation, there remains a stigma associated with mental illness. Negative attitudes and stereotypes about people suffering from mental illness can include “weird”, “crazy”, and “psycho”. Because of the stigma, athletes may not reveal the need for professional support. Therefore, the burden of detecting mental illness may fall on others. Educating coaches about mental illness and symptoms may be helpful in identifying players that may need to seek professional help. Providing training to coaches and teammates on facilitating a safe and comfortable environment for players to discuss their problems without judgment may also prove beneficial. Further, promoting the resources available for athletes within the sports programs may also encourage them to seek assistance before their symptoms spiral out of control. Lastly, it is argued that athlete’s deviant behaviors are often ignored and unaddressed until it becomes public and can potentially damage the team. Addressing aberrant behaviors early with treatment is necessary if the goal is to avoid a situation similar to Lamar Odom’s.
Almasy, S. (2015, October 13) Lamar Odom former NBA Star and reality TV star, hospitalized in Nevada. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
Hays, K (1999) Beyond the game; Athletes with Emotional Problems, American Psychological Association
Leno, M. (2007), The Experience of Depression in African American Male Athletes, Dissertation presented to the faculty of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of doctor of philosophy (Ph.d) in psychology
Martinez, M. (2015, October 15). Nevada Brothels: Things to Know. Retrieved October 15, 2015.