The Pain Beneath the Swagger

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

Getty Images


Black boys don’t cry.

Historically, “we associated mental illness with insanity and horrible shame,” said John F. Murray, a clinical and sport performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla. Unfortunately, far too many black men remain stuck in the dark ages, still attaching a cultural stigma to depression.

Young is the latest high-profile black athlete to have his personal battle with depression made public. In 2006, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens received national headlines when his publicist told a 911 operator that Owens had intentionally overdosed on pain pills. Soon after the episode, like Young, Owens was all smiles as he addressed the media, characterizing the incident as a hiccup instead of as something dark in his personality that needed fixing.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher said on Sept. 15 that the team will stick with Kerry Collins, Young’s former backup, as its starting quarterback as long as the team keeps winning, even after Young becomes healthy enough to return to the field. Once again, Young is faced with an important decision: see the switch as a slap in the face and sink further into disappointment or view it as an opportunity to get help solving his mental-health challenges.

While there is much to appreciate about black masculinity, there are some insidious aspects to playing the part. For instance, many believe that we have to struggle alone with our demons and that asking for help makes us appear weak. That kind of individualism is a fa├žade, and we do ourselves no good when we hold back the tears.

Carl Little is a sports reporter at The Washington Post.