Royce White hears it.
He hears all the chatter in the stands. He hears the good and the bad on Twitter. His openness about his anxiety has become — apart from his talent on the basketball court — what people know about him.
Truth be told, he does not mind a bit.
“It’s been real fulfilling for me personally, just the amount of people that contact me and say that they have anxiety,” White said. “The amount of people from all ages and spectrums that say that I’m doing something they find inspirational and motivates them.”
On Jan. 26, ESPN.com published a story highlighting White’s battle with anxiety disorder, and the story that sparked it all. White witnessed a teammate collapse during a practice in the fourth grade with a valve defect in his heart, something the boy had from birth.
That triggered the anxiety White still has today.
White does his best to handle his anxiety on his own, not wanting to “burden” his coaches or teammates with struggles he might be having.
One of his closest friends on the team is guard Chris Babb, who said he does his best to look out for his friend and teammate. However, Babb also said White knows how to handle himself well.
“I think he’s handled [the attention] well for the most part,” Babb said. “He’s kind of a guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve, whether he knows it or not. I hang out with him a lot. I’ve learned a lot [about mental illness] just by being around him.”
Babb said while White has not ever explicitly explained the details of the disorder to him, what he has learned by osmosis has translated into what they do when they hang out outside of practice.
“I think it’s a great experience to have a friend like that, a teammate like that, to know to be careful [about] the situations you put yourself in,” Babb said. “For instance, [we] don’t go out. I don’t take him to Welch [Ave.]; I don’t take him to places where it’s outside of his element.”
It has been well-documented the struggles the sophomore from Minneapolis has dealt with. Since the ESPN — and many other — stories came out, White has been active in social media and traditional media letting people know a mental illness does not have to negatively affect all parts of people’s lives.
“How we talk about anxiety is risky, and it has to be dealt with carefully,” White said. “Because it’s such a new thing and it’s growing and so undiscovered and unresearched, we’ve got to be careful with how we stigmatize it.”
The stigmas White talked about can be traced to the back-and-forth he and ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb had via Twitter in the days following the increase in talk about White’s disorder. Through his Twitter account, Gottlieb suggested the disorder and the issues that come with it may hinder White’s draft stock.
ISU coach Fred Hoiberg believes that notion to be false. As a former NBA executive, whose job it was to evaluate talent in that manner, Hoiberg knows a good NBA scout will do thorough research.
“I think people will obviously look at the whole package,” Hoiberg said. “They’ll talk to me. ... They’ll talk to [Minnesota coach] Tubby [Smith], they’ll talk to a lot of people that have been in his life, and they’ll do their homework on it.”
For White, the Twitter discussion with Gottlieb was not about the NBA at all.
White said he could not care less about what anyone believes regarding how anxiety affects his play because the game — and the league — is not the point. He said he worries that if kids hear that having a mental disorder is something that will keep them from achieving their goals, they will hide it and not get the help they need.
“I don’t say anything, really, in defense of myself because I really don’t care about going to the NBA or not,” White said. “It’s really not important to me. My goals from two years ago to now have changed to helping people. Whatever I can do to help people is what I’m striving for. If the NBA is something, ... in my future and I can use that to help people, then I’ll do it.”
It’s that notion, the one of him striving to help people, that may very well be the real definition of White off the court.
Spreading the “awareness,” as he put it, of how mental illness affects people is the goal in White’s eyes.
“For me, the anxiety thing isn’t a big thing for me,” White said. “It wasn’t really to come out and say, ‘Woe is me, I have anxiety disorder.’ The main piece for me was that, especially the community I come from, anxiety disorder and mental illness in general is probably the cause of a lot of issues, and it’s one of the most untreated things.”
In getting his message out there, White’s goals are lofty. He mentioned wishing there was a program similar to Planned Parenthood, only for mental illness, because as he put it, “STDs can’t even compare to the amount of people that suffer from mental illness.”
Getting people help, especially those in inner cities and people without proper health care coverage, is something very important to White. The reason, he said, is because often anxiety is triggered from a “traumatizing event,” like seeing his friend collapse.
“Imagine hearing gunshots every day,” White said. “Or imagine being a part of a community that’s plagued with drug violence [or] domestic violence. Those are the ones that not only need help, but they need to understand that it’s something that is out there, and it’s probably pretty prevalent.”
To that end, his coach is very proud of the soon-to-be-21-year-old. Participating in social media and wanting people to get diagnosed is something Hoiberg believes White should be proud of because Hoiberg is, and the public is.
“I think it’s great he went public with it,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve gotten several emails from people just talking about how much that’s helped them. It’s very admirable of him that he did that. It’s good [because] people that battle that disorder have some good days and have some tough days.”
So as of now, people know White first as an incredibly gifted basketball player with a past, then as a player with anxiety, then as a kid with a lot of goals and different interests.
When he leaves the court, the place where “everything feels right,” White does not necessarily want to be remembered as a basketball player.
It is much bigger than that.
“I want people to know me as a person who believed in mankind,” White said. “I believe in mankind, I believe that humans can figure out a way to coexist as a team on a global level. I want to help people.
“I’m going to lay my life down in order to help people, and that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make.”