Former Iowa State basketball star Royce White is traveling the country advocating for more support for the mentally ill, now that an anxiety disorder has kept him from playing in the NBA. White was drafted in the first round last year by Houston, but he has yet to play a single game with the Rockets. During a stop at the Iowa Statehouse today (Thursday), White said he’s proud that his difficulties have at least sparked a conversation about mental illness. “In my opinion, the greatest thing in the way of mental health progress is the stigma and the stigma derives from us not having the conversation,” White said. “Any time the words mental health are said…it’s leaps and bounds for the mental health community.”
White’s disorder involves extreme anxiety over air travel, and he and the Houston Rockets are at odds over how to accommodate that. Iowa was White’s first stop on a nationwide tour organized by a host of mental health organizations. “I think a lot of why mental health has the stigma it does is because a lot of us who suffer are worried about our neighbor actually giving back that understanding and that has to improve,” White said. The Minnesota native is still confident he’ll play in the NBA. “I think if things don’t work out in Houston – which I hope they do – there will be another team,” White said. “Odds are good, hopefully, that one out of 32 general managers or owners will understand that mental health is important and the things I’m asking for aren’t unreasonable and they’ll allow me a chance to play the game I love. I think it’ll happen, but if it didn’t happen, that wouldn’t shock me either.”
State Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, who introduced White at the statehouse news conference, said White’s struggles inspired her to acknowledge her own battle with mental illness. Gaines, a Democrat from Des Moines, said her anxiety and fear of flying prevented her from being named the 1998 National Teacher of the Year. She said the designation that would have required regular travel. “I carried that in my heart as a secret until today,” Gaines said. “This is the first time I’ve ever publicly admitted that was the real reason why I wasn’t selected as national teacher of the year. Royce White gave me the courage to stand up and speak out about my own issue.” Gaines was a drama teacher in the Des Moines School District for more than three decades before being elected to the Iowa House in 2011. White had been playing for the Houston Rockets D-League affiliate in Rio Grande, Texas. The Vipers made the D-League Playoffs, but White is not with the team for the playoff run.