Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the day Royce White made a mistake that would alter the rest of his life. On October 13, 2009 he made the decision to steal from a Macy’s department store – $100 worth of merchandise, to be exact – and got in an altercation with a security guard when confronted. As we all well remember, this not only led to charges from Bloomington police of shoplifting and fifth-degree assault (UPDATE: this charge was later dropped according to Mr. White himself) but also changed the course of White’s career and the immediate direction of Gopher basketball.
Exactly three years later White – who is no stranger to controversy – again finds himself in the national spotlight with the Houston Rockets; trying desperately to get the team to recognize his diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and work with him to make life easier as he begins his NBA career.
White’s exploits since that messy day three years ago have been well-documented. We all know he faced turmoil with the University of Minnesota and never really got his career off the ground in Dinkytown. The Macy’s robbery was the beginning of a slew of strange behaviors and occurrences including ties to possible laptop thefts in campus dorm rooms, music video promotion and his official “retirement” from Gopher basketball via YouTube. Eventually this led to his suspension from the team and a final exit from the Gopher basketball program altogether.
After a failed transfer attempt to Kentucky, White found himself as part of Fred Hoiberg’s rebuilding project at Iowa State for the 2011-12 season and seemed to have his career back on track. He completed one of the more impressive individual seasons in Iowa State history, led the team to the NCAA Tournament, and was named an honorable mention All-American.
After declaring for the NBA Draft, however, White began appearing in the news for unhealthy reasons. His anxiety disorder became a greater focus in the national media and his troubled history allegedly caused teams to pass on him in the draft, where he fell to the 16th selection. That’s where things have recently gotten strange. And for fans that have been following White for much of his career the behavior doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. White missed/skipped the opening of NBA training camp and only recently joined the team, to much fanfare and media scrutiny. Since then he has noted his intense fear of flying, which initially prevented him from making the trip to camp and will make it difficult for him to travel with the team. Because of this he has formally requested and received the use of a personal bus to get him to games when possible.
And here we are today. White again finds himself in the spotlight for reasons other than basketball.
For most of the nation who caught on to Royce White in the midst of his amazing 2011-12 season he appeared to be a classic, heart-warming reclamation story of a guy who basically pieced his life together after it was in shambles and molded it back into one that would help him realize his NBA dreams. His tumble down the NBA draft board was another national story and one that reinforced the idea that he was a down-on-his-luck guy who just couldn’t catch a break. A “day in the life” documentary of sorts tried to reinforce this sentiment. And for the broader audience that started tuning in to the saga during his Iowa State days, Royce White is indeed the victim.
However, for those of us that have been following him since the beginning of his sorta-Minnesota career (and earlier for that matter) the overall picture is a bit fuzzier. And there are a few questions that I have been battling with for awhile. For the better part of the last three years we’ve seen behaviors from White that are inconsistent with or obsessive compulsive disorder. However, he suffers from a real disease that affects his real life. So I ask this:
How do we separate his legitimate health issues and struggles from common, everyday examples of athletes acting out?
In other words, is there a line between the seemingly heartfelt, legitimate anxiety issues like a fear of flying and the more abrasive, strange behaviors like altercations with a Mall of America security guard? Are the two even related?
Myron Medcalf posted an excellent piece on ESPN.com about White’s struggles and had an interesting way of portraying his behavior — “simultaneously confusing and commendable.” The reason I even bring this issue up is because I think Gopher fans have a special angle on his overall struggles, since we were there at his most confusing, frustrating times – at least for Gopher-related matters. We have the appreciation that he continues to overcome struggles and make something of himself – putting Minnesota on the map in the process. But there is always that on-campus behavior when he was in town that makes you scratch your head. It’s hard to know what to make of it.
I’ve heard people come down on both sides. Some say that what he is doing these days by being vocal about his disorder is bringing much-needed attention to anxiety disorder in general and should be commended. Others say he is merely playing it up to obtain special treatment and stick in the spotlight. Like most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Most of those in the former camp probably haven’t been exposed to the entire story, but those in the latter camp just aren’t giving White enough credit.
The problem lies in his sincerity over the years that we’ve known him and how he’s conducted himself – especially today, where’s he’s taken to social media to publicly deal with the Rockets instead of face to face. Myron hits on this a bit in his article, and I think he’s very much on point. The idea is that White, while well-intentioned, goes about getting his message out the wrong way. The recent anxiety issues with the Rockets are a perfect example – he is leading the charge as an advocate for anxiety disorders, but he borders on attention-seeking behavior, which is consistent with his past behaviors (e.g. retiring via YouTube). You want to take him completely seriously, but there is also that sliver of doubt based on the way he keeps going about business.
Like I said before – Gopher fans who have been around the Royce White story for longer than the rest of the nation have a particularly insightful angle into the whole saga. There’s a tendency to say, “oh, there goes Royce again” rather than immediately viewing him as some sort of victim. At least, that was my initial reaction. Athletes at all levels notoriously act out at times and get in trouble; we’ve obviously seen much worse from others. However, it’s not often that we hear rationales like GAD as reasons for the behavior.
It’s a very interesting issue, though, considering the adventures that we’ve seen Royce go through as far back as his DeLaSalle days, and warrants discussion.
What do you think about it all? Has his anxiety disorder been the root of his behavioral problems from day one? Is he instead leveraging his diagnosis in an attempt to reformat his image? A combination of the two?