Professional sports are an exclusive fraternity, with few experiencing the highs and lows of being a star athlete both on and off the field.
In addition to a number of notable alumni addressing the Chargers rookies this week, one long time NBA veteran spent an hour sharing his personal story of mental health and overcoming adversity.
Keyon Dooling played for 13 years with the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. Originally the 10th overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft, he carved out a long and productive career known as a defensive specialist and team leader. However, as he explained to the Bolts' rookies, his career was shortened by his inability to deal with his mental health issues stemming from a traumatic childhood experience.
"It's important to balance life in regards to mental health," he said. "If I would have had my mental health in order I would have had a longer career, and a more productive career. I had so many things I was carrying along, and a lot of times you don't realize that you are acting out whether it is suffering from anxiety or lacking discipline to get to the next level. There are a lot of layers to mental health. I believe it is a lot easier to talk about these issues now because people are more vulnerable and open to sharing their issues. It has been destigmatized. The notion of having an issue at the moment doesn't mean you are crazy, but you simply have a trauma in your life you need to overcome."
Since hanging up his sneakers for good in 2013, Dooling has been a motivational speaker determined to share his life story to help others. His relationship with San Diego's Senior Director of Player Engagement Arthur Hightower, who hails from the same hometown, afforded the Chargers the opportunity to hear directly from the long-time point guard.
"I'm a motivational speaker so I speak across the country specifically on mental health and sexual abuse. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and an advocate for mental health. I believe it's a gateway for healing for the entire country. So Arthur reached out to me a few years ago, and this will be my third year speaking with the Chargers."
The opportunity to mentor young athletes about a sensitive subject has given Dooling a new purpose in life.
"I don't want to have people go through what I went through to get their healing, and I don't want them to deal with internal issues that they need to overcome without knowing what healing looks like. I believe the fastest growing area where athletes in particular are open to receiving help is mental health. Guys know that mental health issues come in many different forms. There are a lot of highs and lows in our sport, and sometimes when you are in a slump it can trigger a mental health episode. Mental health isn't about a schizophrenic episode or a psychotic episode; it is really the layers within it and how normal it is to have an issue."
While Dooling's focus was on mental health, there are a number of other values he aimed to get across to the crop of rookies.
"I also want to obviously manage their expectations as far as what to expect with their newfound fortune and fame. I also want to talk about some of the challenges relative to not only being an athlete, but the environment they come from. I want to talk about how to balance their life, and encourage and motivate them by channeling my inner Ray Lewis and challenging them to be the best person they can possibly be right now in this moment. They have to seize this opportunity. I feel like I am walking in my purpose and calling by helping athletes deal with their issues I wish I had known how to deal with at the time."