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Mental health stigma has plagued the Kevin Porter Jr. conversation

The Rockets are doing the right thing with Porter.

Miami Heat v Houston Rockets Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Back in Oct. 2020 when Kevin Porter Jr. shared on Instagram a blacked-out photo paired with the jarring caption “you ever wish to see the end of your time”, the response to his mental health state was drastically different. Insults and negativity were hardly found despite him saying that the post was blown out of proportion, which left what he was really trying to say pretty cloudy.

There’s one thing that’s clear, however, after this week’s KPJ incident. Mental health, in general, seems to be only taken serious when it sounds like a person is going to end their life. Not when there are tiny signs that show there might be an issue or when there are certain actions that should make it obvious, but instead are underlying.

Not long after his post, Porter Jr. took to Twitter and cleared up that there was no suicidal intent in his message and then ended his explanation by saying that he’d been through the worst times already and that things couldn’t get worse than that. This coming from a young man who was only 20-years old at the time. His statement was met with relief, but really, it sounded like emotions being shoved into a bottle and stored away.

Twice since that Friday in October, he’s had moments where the lid popped off; and this time the support wasn’t so pure. After he left the arena early against Denver, he drove into the end of many judgmentally pointed fingers. He was labeled as a locker room cancer, selfish, someone that wouldn’t adjust, with the main theme of the comments being that he’s an issue for the Houston Rockets.

Amid his plight, he’s had moments where he’s crashed, and while many offered sincerity for his well-being - there were just as many who described the situation as a tantrum. Each time it’s used, that “tantrum” word condescends the entire conversation surrounding mental health. It’s a term typically used to describe a young child lashing out because they couldn’t get their way, or apparently an athlete who someone wants to humiliate. If you were to google the word, you’d be shown images of babies carrying - not an adult showing signs of holding back their pain.

It’s seldomly a word used to describe an adult unless the theme is ridicule. It’s not one directed towards family members that have been through hardship or soldiers who are reeling from war. But it was used on Porter Jr. Why, because his struggles aren’t shared by you? Because he hasn’t been in a war? He told us all that he’s been through the hardest times of his life already, he’s been through a personal war.

He walked through the battlefield of an ever-raging lopsided war in Seattle between guns and black skin, all while navigating through adolescence while carrying the grief of losing his father at the age of four. Sure, he eventually became a star in the city and is rising to heights that the Space Needle soon will be jealous of - but before that, there was always the risk of becoming just another victim of a harsh situation.

Of course, there’s still a level of accountability that must be in place. He can’t ever again exit an arena early after being benched or get to a boiling point where he outlets his emotion through anger. He certainly can’t throw an item or partake in “spirited debates” with the coaching staff. But he knows that, and while it was still wrong and doesn’t excuse the actions - he was apologetic that night when speaking with team officials. He messed up but understood that as well.

Instantly though, the conversations started up on social media. “He doesn’t truly care about the game… he isn’t the type to make adjustments… he was a free asset anyways…” because mental health time and time again takes a backseat when discussing an athlete.

There’s no question that he has things that he needs to work on not only for well-being but also for the sake of his career, but both himself and the franchise are working on them. There’s a reason why Stephen Silas had such a warm, love-filled message — it’s because they believe in him. Which is something that is appreciated by the former USC Trojan.

At media day back in September, Porter Jr. stated that he loves the Rockets because the organization, “saved his life”. This coming from a 21-year old.

It’s been documented that Houston has become a positive part of his life, with a lot of praise being directed towards John Lucas. But what was ignored in the overall cheerfulness regarding the upcoming season was Porter Jr. again showing signs of holding back pain.

There are plenty of takes flying around that a move must be made for the sake of Houston’s culture, but they’ve shown that they do things differently. Instead of throwing his soon-to-be suspended players under the bus after the Denver game, Silas tried to keep it in the house. Instead of showing any resentment towards Porter Jr. for making a mistake, he spoke with love. The Rockets’ culture doesn’t need repair, it’s just misunderstood. They believe in not only the player, but the person, and it’s why the internal reaction ended up being so minimal.

Kevin Porter Jr. has an immense fanbase in the city of Houston along with an organization that believes in him. Those two things can be met with a wave of negativity from non-believers and doubters. But regardless of if you are a fan or can’t stand him, it’s important to remember that he’s human. KPJ the hooper is fair game, but Kevin the person should always be considered.

So if you wouldn’t say it about struggling family members, friends, or co-workers — then don’t hide behind a screen and utter it about an athlete, or really anyone for that matter.