Monthly Archives: May 2017

Story Untold: “It’s Bigger Than Mental Health; It’s More About Politics”

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He’s been dubbed “the most important basketball player alive.”

Royce White may not be suiting up for an NBA franchise, but his advocacy for mental health — and his outspokenness on the league’s lack of a mental health policy — made him a household name long before he was drafted 16th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2012.

These days, the 6’8″ Iowa State alum calls London, Ontario home, having recently been named MVP of the National Basketball League of Canada. His London Lightning are in the playoffs after a record-setting season in which White posted the most triple-doubles in league history. Three years after his NBA career came to an end with the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota native’s unique skills — the combination of a point guard’s vision and a center’s power — are still there.

It’s his willingness to talk about his battle with mental illness, however, that makes him a rarity beyond the basketball court — the athlete unafraid of taking on the big brass, even if it costs him millions in lost potential earnings.

“Philosophy is seen as a distraction in a league that’s about hyper-competitiveness and tunnel vision. I’m talking big ideas that we don’t see eye-to-eye on, and [the NBA] knew that. That conversation [about mental health] became a conduit of just how different we are politically.” – Royce White

White deals with general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, diagnoses he received at 17 but traces all the way back to childhood.

“I [remember] having [panic attacks] as a young child — eight, nine — on my way to a basketball game and throwing up in the morning,” he says.

As a kid, one of White’s best friends collapsed in front of him while running conditioning drills at basketball practice and ended up in hospital. His heart had given out.

“He just collapsed. Drooling, couldn’t breathe, clearly in pain,” says White. “Dad was the assistant coach, picked him up, put him in the ambulance, followed the ambulance to the hospital… spinal tap. Nine years old […] I still have panic attacks to this day, and my first reaction is still that they’re heart attacks.”

At Iowa State, White earned First Team All-Big 12 honours, becoming the only player in the country to lead his team in all five major statistical categories: points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks. White feels his public history of mental illness and a growing narrative surrounding his fear of flying, however, led NBA general managers to cool on him as Draft Day approached.

“The media is so good at what they do that headlines have become a beast that even they can’t control,” says White. “Twitter took that and put it on steroids, because it became all headlines. And I actually happened to get drafted into the NBA when Twitter was really starting to boom.”

“David Stern, at one point, didn’t want to meet with me, but he told me to stay off of Twitter. And it really pissed me off, because two or three nights before, I had a 13-year-old girl tell me that she had attempted suicide before, [but] that she was inspired by my story and it gave her hope.” – Royce White

“I was clearly one or two [of the best prospects], and they were talking about me possibly getting drafted late in the second round. I mean, how [expletive] absurd is that? It’s clearly about mental health,” he adds.

He ended up missing the opening of NBA training camp with the Rockets, waiting for the franchise to draft a plan for addressing his mental health concerns. Part of it surrounded finding ways to minimize the number of flights he would need to take, but as White tells the story, it had more to do with the NBA providing team doctors the ability to make decisions without influence from general managers. White felt his political views only separated the gulf between him and the league.

“Philosophy is seen as a distraction in a league that’s about hyper-competitiveness and tunnel vision,” says White. “I’m talking big ideas that we don’t see eye-to-eye on, and [the NBA] knew that. That conversation [about mental health] became a conduit of just how different we are politically.”

White’s once-promising NBA career ended after just three games, his debut coming 631 days — and on his third team — after the NBA Draft. His final NBA career log: three minutes of floor time.

“That time period put a lot of things in perspective,” he says.

“[Then-NBA commissioner] David Stern, at one point, didn’t want to meet with me, but he told me to stay off of Twitter. And it really pissed me off, because two or three nights before, I had a 13-year-old girl tell me that she had attempted suicide before, [but] that she was inspired by my story and it gave her hope.”

These days, White feels at home with the Lightning, enjoying his longest stretch of basketball since he suited up as a college player. The team finished the regular season at 35-5, and the former Cyclone talks glowingly about the journey he’s been on with his new teammates.

White estimates in the years since he went public about his experience with anxiety, he’s heard from thousands about their own mental health journeys.

“I see mental health as the way that we think and we feel, and the way that we interact with each other — every day,” says White. “It’s given me a profound connection with the common struggle, and ultimately, death […] When you have panic attacks, and you feel like you’re going to die, your brain tells itself that it’s going to die. You look death in the face. You know when people say near-death experience? People with panic attacks have that all the time.”

Photo from Royce White via Instagram (@the.last.renaissance).

Listen to the podcast: http://storyuntold.blubrry.com/2017/05/18/royce-white-its-bigger-than-mental-health-its-more-about-politics/
Subscribe on Apple Podcasts: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/story-untold/id1226851327?mt=2

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Story Untold: “Everybody Has Their Own Journey”

When I was in my first year of university, I met a man who would ultimately shape the course of my life.

As then-program director at 94.9 CHRW, Adulis Mokanan was responsible for training would-be volunteers on how to get involved at the campus radio station. As host and founder of The Come Up Show, however, Mokanan — better known as Chedo — had established himself as one of the leading Canadian voices in hip-hop journalism — interviewing the likes of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.

I had resolved myself during my second semester to get involved with 94.9 CHRW and get some hands-on experience before the rest of my broadcast journalism classmates. In walked Chedo to my training session, and it was like a sign from above.

I started shadowing him during his Saturday evening radio shows, and it wasn’t long after that I started writing and doing interviews of my own for The Come Up Show — meeting and picking the brains of countless of my favourite musicians.

As many artists as I’ve spoken to, though, I’ve got a long way to catch up with Chedo. Having interviewed over 500 artists in his decade in the music industry, during which The Come Up Show has been recognized by CBC Music as one of the ’10 Canadian music blogs you need to be reading,’ he’s learned one lesson:

“Everyone has their own path. Somebody can tell you everything that they know, but you’ve still gotta figure it out for yourself.”

Listen to my conversation with him here.

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Story Untold: “I am the Luckiest Man on Earth”

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Spend an hour with Mike Farwell, and you come to learn there are many sides to the man.

There’s the morning show host who can’t resist a joke at his own expense. As Farwell tells it, radio is the only thing he ever wanted to do with his life.

“I got into radio for one reason, and one reason only, and that’s because I loved the medium — I was fascinated by it,” he says. “I never had any illusions about anybody knowing my name. I never had any illusions about people even listening to what I do; I just wanted to get a job at a radio station.”

There’s the Kitchener Rangers broadcaster who grew up listening to, and then working with, Don Cameron — an experience he still describes as a dream.

“[He] was the soundtrack to my hockey youth,” says Farwell.

There’s the community servant, always eager to emcee an event. And there’s the brother who lost two sisters to cystic fibrosis — and still thinks of them over twenty years later. Each May, Farwell devotes himself to raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis Canada — offering his services through his #Farwell4Hire campaign. Last year, he raised over $40,000 for the cause.

“[My sisters] got robbed of the last twenty years that I’ve had to try to do something,” says Farwell. “So that’s why I do it.”

“My older sister [was] 24 years old,” he says. “Nine months later, losing my little sister at the age of 18 was excruciating. So I kind of went into a hole for awhile.”

Two quotes pulled Farwell out of his funk and drove him to using his platform as a radio personality to make a difference.

“[Former radio personality Neil Aitchison] brought out a quote: ‘Community service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy.’ And I’ve never forgotten that,” he says.

The other one, says Farwell, came from a book written by baseball great Roberto Clemente:

“[He said,] ‘A person who has the ability to help others and fails to do so has wasted his life.’ […] I honestly started thinking: what could I possibly do to help other people?”

“I am so grateful to this community,” says Farwell. “It’s taken care of me all my life, and I can’t help but want to give back to it.”

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