The Pain Beneath the Swagger

Black male bravado allows no room for a mental health crisis. What a sad and dangerous thing.

Getty Images
Getty Images

“I was never depressed. […] I just want to tell everybody I’m fine. I’m good. It’s a blessing to play the game that I love.”

–Vince Young

In case you didn’t know already, black boys don’t cry.

Tears just don’t go with the brand. African-American males are encouraged to be fearless, cocky and impervious to external forces. You can’t do that while your eyes are watery and your voice is breaking.

Black men celebrate swagger and aggressiveness and tend to scorn weakness, either real or perceived. It is often more manly to admit to an act of violence than to an act of kindness. Unfortunately, all this chest thumping can lead a man to ruin.

Consider Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.

After his game on Sept. 7, during which Young played poorly, was booed by fans and sprained his left knee, the superstar came unraveled. He told a psychiatrist the next day that he no longer wanted to play football and that he was having suicidal thoughts. That night, he left his cell phone and a house full of people behind and disappeared in his car with a gun. Police searched for Young for more than four hours before finding him at a friend’s house, unharmed, watching a football game and eating hot wings.

Clearly, Young was suffering an emotional crisis. He needs the ongoing help of a mental health care professional. Yet, if Young stays true to the statistics, he isn’t likely to receive help. “The percentage of African Americans receiving needed [mental health] care is only half that of non-Hispanic whites,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. The study goes on to say that nearly 25 percent of African Americans are uninsured—a large barrier to seeking health care—compared to 16 percent of the general U.S. population.

On Sept. 11, the 25-year-old all-pro held a press conference. He had a difficult but important decision to make: admit that he was grappling with deep depression, which strikes nearly 17 million American adults each year, or strike a pose and insist that nothing is bothering him. The bravado won out. According to Young, he was never depressed.