Today, when Kevin Love feels a decline in his mental health, he’s able to deal with it in a number of ways. He goes to therapy and takes medication. He tries to meditate every day. He spends quiet time with his dog, Vestry.
To his opponents on the court, Love comes across as a fearless competitor, regularly sacrificing his body to make a play or change the outcome of a game. Standing 6’10” and 250 pounds, Love is an NBA star known for his physical strength.
But it took a different type of strength—the courage to be vulnerable—to be able to bounce back after experiencing his first panic attack in front of thousands of people.
It was just after halftime on November 5th, 2017, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where the hometown Cavaliers were playing the Atlanta Hawks. Love had struggled through 18 minutes of playing time, posting a disappointing statline: four points, four rebounds, and four fouls on 1-of-6 shooting. He was pulled from the court with 8:29 left on the clock in the third quarter, leaving fans, teammates, and commentators to speculate on what exactly had knocked the star center out of the game.
“I couldn’t catch my breath,” Love says. “I was sticking my hand down my throat trying to clear my air passage. I thought I was having a heart attack and ended up unconscious on the floor of our head trainer’s office.”
Love remembered thinking that “this could be it”—that he would die at 29 years old at the peak of his professional career as an elite athlete. But what scared Love more than that feeling of helplessness was the idea that other people would find out about the episode. He didn’t want his teammates or coaches or fans to think he was “not reliable.” For months, Love closely guarded a secret that brought him deep shame: that he was struggling with his mental health.
Despite all this, Love still managed to play well enough that season to land a spot on the All-Star team. And although a broken hand kept him from being able to play in that, Love made the trip to Los Angeles for the All-Star Break in February 2018. It was in L.A. that Love felt compelled to finally open up to the public about his mental health.
“I didn’t want anyone to tell this story but me,” Love says.
On March 6th, The Players’ Tribune published an essay written by Love titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” The essay functioned not only as a confession, but also as a deep exploration of how notions of masculinity have stigmatized men talking openly about mental health and seeking treatment.
“Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to be a man It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.”
Since going public with his mental health issues, Love has used his platform to try to lessen that stigma for young men, primarily through his charity The Kevin Love Fund. The charity has partnered with other mental health organizations like the Movember Foundation and Just Keep Livin’, as well as the meditation app Headspace, which provided 850 donation subscriptions to UCLA student athletes.
“These superheroes that we look at, whether it be somebody in the entertainment industry or an athlete, we also have these layers that we deal with on a daily basis,” Love says. “Know that you’re not alone. You’re not different. You’re not weird. And we can do this stuff together.”
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