One night, during a November basketball game in 2017, NBA All-Star Kevin Love had to take himself off the court. There was nothing exceptional about the game itself but when he couldn’t breathe, thinking maybe something was caught in his throat, he exited to the locker room.
“I didn’t know I was going to be OK,” he says about that night. “I had never felt like this before. I thought, ‘Oh shit, I’m going to die.’ I thought I was having a heart attack ... I had tears running down my face, I was on the ground, I was helpless.”
Love wasn’t having a heart attack and he had nothing caught in his throat. He was experiencing a panic attack. And since receiving help for the condition, the 30-year-old professional athlete has opened up to the public about what it’s taught him about mental health.
“Everybody has their own story, whether it be depression or anxiety or anything they’re dealing with, and it manifests in a different way,” Love said. “That’s why those [“Locker Room Talk”] conversations were very special. I didn’t know what would come from it, but we had such great conversations where the guys opened up, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people.”
Love wrote a candid personal essay at one point for The Player’s Tribune, sharing his own struggles.
“If you’re suffering silently like I was, then you know how it can feel like nobody really gets it,” he wrote. “Partly, I want to do it for me, but mostly, I want to do it because people don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind. 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. “
The Player’s Tribune essay and that November panic attack have opened up new opportunities for Love and turned into a positive for the future of confronting mental health. Now, Love has even become the host of “Locker Room Talk,” a series where he and other professional athletes have conversations about well-being, occasionally touching on mental health and other topics commonly treated as taboo among men and athletes alike.
“I believe, as athletes, we’re looked at as superhuman and indestructible. Success is not immune to depression. So athletes that are able to come out and share their stories is going to be super powerful moving forward.”
It’s a refreshing turn in the conversations people are starting to have about mental health overall, and maybe more specifically, opening up doors for men to do so.
“I’m hoping to have a class or course or workshop where people can go and work on their mental health, whether it’s in high school or middle school,” Love said. “You know, you learn about health and sex education, but you also need to learn about mental wellness and well-being. Because at that time, your mind and your body are changing at such an alarming rate that you don’t know what to make of it. I certainly didn’t.”