‘They’re amazingly isolated’: is social media making NBA players miserable?
NBA commissioner says many of the stars he meets are unhappy. The criticism they face on Twitter and Instagram could be to blame
Sometimes it can be challenging for NBA players to focus entirely on basketball. Recently, Russell Westbrook got into a back and forth with a fan accused of using racially tinged language – the man was later banned from the team’s games for life. And it’s not just on court where players can feel exposed – it happens on social media too. The most infamous case came when Kevin Durant was caught using multiple burner accounts on Twitter to defend himself against criticism.
All of this instability and confrontation points to a question that has been asked often lately: are today’s NBA players, despite their money and fame, unhappy? The issue of mental health in the NBA took center stage last season when both Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan spoke candidly about their struggles with anxiety and depression. At the latest MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested that many players are unhappy. He said that “in an age of anxiety” many of the players he meets with are “genuinely unhappy” and “amazingly isolated”. NBA hall of famer Charles Barkley, ignoring the old adage that money can’t buy you happiness, was quick to disagree. How could players be struggling, he asked, when they make millions of dollars a year and stay in the best hotels in the world?
Compete to Create, disagrees with Barkley. While studies have shown that happiness increases as people earn more money, it peaks around $75,000 a year, and doesn’t increase afterwards. “That’s a complete myth. It’s a complete error,” Gervais says oft he link between wealth and happiness. “People who make $75,000 and above, do not have different levels of happiness. So, the wealthy are not happier. External resources do not dictate internal wellness.”Russell Westbrook says ‘racial’ comment sparked courtside row at NBA game – videoSports psychologist Dr Michael Gervais, co-founder of
Another factor that Silver believes plays a part in players’ unhappiness and anxiety is one that is blamed for ills across society: social media. Just like their less athletic peers, NBA players live much of their life on Twitter and Instagram. And it’s not just basketball players either. Kliff Kingsbury, the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, says he gives his players smart phone breaks during team meetings. “You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix, so we’ll let them hop over there and then get back in the meeting and refocus,” Kingsbury said last month.
The appeal of social media for athletes is clear: they can control the image that they want to present to the public. It also leaves them open to abuse from anonymous users. “One of the greatest fears for modern humans is the fear of people’s opinions [FOPO],” Gervais says. “It’s the number one fear for modern day humans, and social media amplifies FOPO.”
The Philadelphia 76ers’ JJ Redick quit social media last summer after he realized how much time he was wasting on it, and how it distracted him from the essential things in his life. “It’s a dark place, it’s not a healthy place. It’s not real,” Redick told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place for ego, if we’re talking about some Freudian shit. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, says there is a clear connection between negative social media behaviors and depression amongst millennials. Dr Lisa Strohman, a clinical psychologist and founder of Digital Citizen Academy, points out the insecurities that social media can generate in NBA players.
“Millennials really are unabashedly fearing everything,” Dr Strohman says. “They would just put out information without curating or editing it, in a way Gen-Z does. So now I see people in these [athletic] fields who are very edited, because they have brand recognition. And those that have a good enough team around them, definitely put out a curated version of themselves, which ultimately makes them feel very hollow inside.”
Will social media usage impact the next generation of NBA players even more severely? Will they be as unhappy as some of the millennial stars of today? Strohman doesn’t think so. Future NBA players in Generation Z and beyond should have a better understanding of how to filter social media, as they learn from millennials’ mistakes.
“Generation Z is starting and has better roots into what information is being taken in [than millennials], and how to filter through it,” Strohman says. “The millennial generation is the one that paves the road for that.”