Mortality behind the millions

The pressures of Drug Abuse with professional athletes

Berto Gonzalez, Reporter

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The night that ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt retold the news to his nationwide audience —

“Passed out in a brothel….it is just incredibly sad….A man who’s dealt with so much loss, unable to find his way…” the SportsCenter anchor had an added sense of misery. He, like so many that evening of Oct. 13, was blindsided by the report that Lamar Odom, former NBA champion for the Los Angeles Lakers, had been discovered unconscious in a Nevada brothel, supposedly from a violent drug overdose.

Van Pelt’s lament, however, wasn’t just for the fragile state of a once respected athlete; it was for the way Odom was being portrayed by the masses of media outlets — “Former Kardashian Reality Star found unconscious in Nevada Brothel…,” “Khloe’s ex struggles for Life…,” “Former reality star could be at the end of the road after possible overdose in brothel” — These were the headlines making the rounds across the Internet and TV outlets after the initial report broke.

This was particularly upsetting not just for Van Pelt but for the legions of sports fans that witnessed Odom’s finest work, from his high basketball IQ to his shooting stroke in crunch time within one of the finest runs of Los Angeles basketball history. Even more upsetting to others was the way his drug overdose was understated as just another footnote in his post-television-exposed life.

This instance of Lamar Odom is just one of the two harsh realities that celebrity athletes have to face every day. It’s as if their story is a tale of two people. There is the celebrity that puts on a bright and influential façade for the legions of fans and admirers; a hero they can look up to and aspire towards to make them feel better. Then there is also the common man that is in constant battle against his inner demons. It is the latter that the masses tend to ignore when it comes to their heroes.

The public masses are blissfully ignorant. That is not to corner one certain group and cast insults their way. It is just an observation. The most ignorance dwells from the perception of celebrities. There just doesn’t seem to be a strong grasp of who these celebrities are because they achieve things that are only conjured in our deepest dreams. They have made things happen in their lives that the common man only keeps in the confines of a water cooler discussion. It is damning, in turn, to see the celebrity in any light that is not a flattering camera flash.

It is crushing for the average laypersons when their idols crash to rock bottom in abrupt fashion because the fantasy bubble that the idol was once placed in explodes, and that shrapnel pierces through the admirer’s heart. It is crucial, I say, that we fully understand what substance abuse means and how and why it can breed in even the proudest and most dominant of heroes.

Valley counselor Lisa Moody, clinical director at Sage Counseling, Inc., offers insight into celebrities’ abuse problems.

“When talking about substance dependency…the most common denominator is some kind of trauma,” she says. Moody has 32 years of substance abuse counseling on her resume, specializing in the accounts of clients registered within the criminal justice system. She adds that these types of clients are drawn to the use of illicit substances because of the way they were “socialized into that world already.” The stressed socioeconomic status of most of these clients along with their simple genetics can combine to create “the perfect storm of abusive behavior.”

In terms of the mindset of the athlete, Moody confirms that there is no specific contrast between athletes who abuse and the common abuser in society. However, she notes that in handling clients in professional sports, pain management can be a big reason for using these substances. Moody explains that there is a need to be the best and play as hard as you can. These players all play for that next guaranteed contract and because of that, they will themselves to play even in the event of injury, and that exacerbates the use of these substances.

So, given the fact that these athletes often come from disadvantaged environments as children and use sports and athleticism to stay out of trouble, there is a need to pay attention to how they are handling themselves since, as Moody puts it, there is no previous education for how to properly cope with something as troubling as a traumatic event.

Sports is an often recommended gateway to a better and healthier lifestyle, and there are cases of great success amongst these athletes, but that doesn’t mean that negative social factors aren’t still apparent in their lives.

There is a constant pressure for these athletes to achieve greatness. They are plastered across accessible media outlets as above the realm of normality, but they are still people with demons to fight. You can dismiss these factors all you want and say that they should just know how to deal with it, considering the great number of new resources at their disposal given their new tax bracket; but these demons are going to come out and drag a mortal soul down if not combatted with some compassion and education about where they came from and where they could end up. A man is more than his name. He is more than the records he broke or the points he scored. There is mortality behind the millions.

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Mortality behind the millions