Doctor clearance called into question


Royce White is a mental case.


There are plenty of mental cases in this world.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Royce White is one of them according to his doctor.

The 6 foot 8, 260-pound White is the 16th pick of the 2012 NBA draft.  He has been signed by the Houston Rockets, but Royce White has yet to suit up for a game in a Houston Rockets uniform.

The story of the 21-year-old from Iowa State is complex.  From a very young age, White experienced intense anxiety.   While smoking marijuana for the first time may have been a factor, White says the anxiety began after witnessing a friend collapse during wind sprints.   Whatever the root of his anxiety, White is perhaps the most forthcoming athlete regarding his mental health issues.

White has an intense fear of flying.  The anxiety he experiences pales in comparison to the hours leading up to a flight. Travel is a living hell for him, but it is required to earn a salary in the National Basketball Association. The NBA’s demanding travel schedule is incredibly taxing on the human body. Add to that 48 minutes of rigourous play in at least 82 season games.

White’s diagnosis creates a further issue.  The team doctor has no expertise in psychiatry, so White has relied on his own doctors for diagnosis and treatment. And he wants team management to accept the diagnosis of his personal doctors.

And while the Rockets have been accommodating, White wants the team to make decisions about his play based on the diagnosis of his personal doctors, not the team doctors.

As the Rockets have no qualified psychiatric doctor to consult, he questions whether decisions made by team management are really in his best interest.

In an interview with Chuck Klosterman of, White brought up an interesting point:

“Why do restaurants put exit signs over every exit? I bet if Cheesecake Factory didn’t have to do that, they wouldn’t. Because it would cost less to do nothing. They have to be forced to do that. So if a team or a business can save money by making things less safe, they’re going to do that. They don’t care. It’s a conflict of interest to have the team doctor paid by the team. What we need is a doctor who can look at a situation and say, ‘Listen, I know the team wants you to do this, and I know their doctor is saying you should do this. But as a non-biased doctor with no interest in how you perform athletically, I recommend differently.’ Right now, you have players pushing themselves back in three weeks who have three-month injuries.” 

He’s not wrong and there are other examples:

  • Robert Griffin III completed one of the most exciting rookie seasons in the National Football League’s history.  Unfortunately, the completion of his season was forced, playing with severe ligament injuries.  Two weeks before, he had sprained the same knee.  The National Football League Player’s Association considered investigating whether coaching and medical staff erred by playing Griffin.
  • There are increased reports of dementia experienced by retired NFL players, possibly resulting from improper diagnoses and recovery plans for head injuries suffered during play.

Recently, Deadspin released a report contending NFL players don’t trust their team doctors.  The reason for the distrust is the conflict of interest that exists between doctors and players paid by the same ownership group.

Simply put, owners make money based on the performance and popularity of their players.  If the athlete doesn’t play, those owners could lose money.

It appears to some that as the bottom line targets become more ambitious, so too medical and personnel decisions.

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