VanVleet: DeRozan changed NBA by 'speaking out' about mental health

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet talks about his experience with DeMar DeRozan and also his advocacy for mental health.

Editor's note: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you aren't alone. Readers in Canada can contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET) to speak with someone. A full list of available resources can be found here.

When DeMar DeRozan, one day down the line, decides to retire, his most lasting impact on basketball may very well be what he did off the court instead of on it.

Back in 2018, DeRozan tweeted "This depression get the best of me," an open acknowledgement of his personal struggles that sparked a broader conversation around the NBA -- and all of sports -- about mental health. Other athletes, such as Kevin Love -- whose 2018 Players Tribune article titled "Everybody is going through something" detailed episodes of anxiety he experienced during the season -- have since credited DeRozan as being one of the reasons they felt they could come forward and tell their stories.

Two years later, the effects of DeRozan's openness and subsequent mental-health advocacy continue to reverberate around the NBA.

"He changed a billion dollar business," Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Saturday. "He changed it pretty much single-handedly [by] speaking out. And then obviously a lot of guys felt more comfortable, and that's what it's about. So for him to do that was huge and we won't know the impact, we'll never know the impact, but we just know that it's a great impact that he had on the league and on guys, on players, coaching staff, whoever -- that this is DeMar DeRozan and he goes through [expletive] like everybody else.

"I think that was big for him. It took a lot of guts and a lot of heart to do that, and it's something that helped me in my personal life -- feeling comfortable about some of those things -- and it opened my eyes to things I was ignorant about. And I think it was special for him to do that."

Normalizing the discussion of mental health and removing the stigma that often is still associated with it, essential in normal times, has become all the more paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For what is creeping up on a year now, an incomprehensible number of lives have been lost, families have been forced to be apart, jobs have been ended with the shuttering of businesses.

"I think it's even more important now during the pandemic," VanVleet said. "I think people's mental health has kinda been pushed to the side a little bit, so I think it's something we should all focus on a little bit more and keep at the forefront of all of our discussions.

"Obviously we've gotta worry about our physical health with this virus and all the other things going on, but our mental health has really been affected over these last 12 months and it's something that we should all pay attention to and focus on individually and collectively."

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