When you’re a rookie in the NFL, you need to hear every story you can from people who have lived the life of a professional athlete. Stories can always come from off the gridiron as well.
Keyon Dooling, a former NBA player of 13 seasons, recently met with the current crop of rookies on the San Diego Chargers roster. Though the NFL now puts on a Rookie Symposium for all players drafted into the league each year, it will never hurt to hear stories from other athletes as well.
As Ricky Henne of the team’s official website writes, Dooling detailed his experiences as a player to the young rookies in San Diego and he did so with a purpose. His goal was to hammer home the importance of balancing all issues in life, particularly when it comes to one’s mental health.
“It’s important to balance life in regards to mental health. If I would have had my mental health in order I would have had a longer career, and a more productive career. I had so many things I was carrying along, and a lot of times you don’t realize that you are acting out whether it is suffering from anxiety or lacking discipline to get to the next level. There are a lot of layers to mental health. I believe it is a lot easier to talk about these issues now because people are more vulnerable and open to sharing their issues. It has been destigmatized. The notion of having an issue at the moment doesn’t mean you are crazy, but you simply have a trauma in your life you need to overcome”, said Dooling.
The No. 10 overall pick of the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA draft, Dooling averaged 7.0 points per game during his career while suiting up for seven different teams.
Though Dooling was never an NBA All-Star, he suffered through a rough childhood and those experiences are part of the message he delivers today.
Dooling, who has a close relationship with Arthur Hightower, the Chargers’ Senior Director of Player Engagement, has now met with the Chargers for the past three years. Retired from the NBA, Dooling travels the country as a motivational speaker.
Many fans believe athletes are invincible, particularly due to the high salaries they earn for playijng a game. They forget that these players are human beings who suffer through real, every day issues, much like Dooling, who was sexually abused as a child.
Dooling talks about his very personal issue with today’s athletes in an attempt to promote mental health awareness.
“I don’t want to have people go through what I went through to get their healing, and I don’t want them to deal with internal issues that they need to overcome without knowing what healing looks like. I believe the fastest growing area where athletes in particular are open to receiving help is mental health. Guys know that mental health issues come in many different forms. There are a lot of highs and lows in our sport, and sometimes when you are in a slump it can trigger a mental health episode. Mental health isn’t about a schizophrenic episode or a psychotic episode; it is really the layers within it and how normal it is to have an issue”, he says.
This is a strong message, particularly in a league where mental health, particularly post-career, is a hot-button topic. In addition, Dooling also talks to rookies about life as a professional athlete and how to handle the highs and lows as well as what to expect in the future. These are the kind of messages that young players can’t hear enough in today’s world. Rookies need positive messages like this, especially after Cris Carter’s “fall guy” comments to young players just two years ago.
Dooling isn’t Michael Jordan or Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant. But his message is a good one, and hopefully, this rookie class in San Diego absorbed every second of it.
Kudos to the Chargers organization and Mr. Hightower for using Dooling to be a positive influence in the lives of these young men.