Ben Simmons, "Mental Health," and a Player Empowerment Waterloo

This is a post that gave me some of anxiety, for whatever reason, which is why I pushed it to a later publishing point in the week than usual. And you know what? My readers shouldn’t care that much about my difficulties in posting it, at least in terms of excuse-making. They’re here for a service, a service they paid for. They’ve got their own problems. Everybody does.

That’s the way of the world, and you’re better off accepting it than insisting that people hailing from outside your inner circle should nurture you. There’s a freedom in the world’s callousness; it grants you permission to narrow a focus on your family, your friends and your job, rather than waiting around for the external locus of control to save you. You can try to better your situation, but it’s usually a mistake to sit on the sidelines and demand that it betters you, out of some deep concern for your well-being.

With that in mind, there was a story that dominated headlines before the basketball season, one involving Ben Simmons’ making a trade demand of the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s now a tale of our age, specifically the zeitgeist-central subject of mental health. Like most fans, I just wanted this saga to go away, as it involved a player who wasn’t exactly compelling, attempting to bend rules and conventions in his favor. Personally, I also just felt less moral authority to render any judgment on it. While the player appeared to be acting unreasonably in how he was asking out of his contract, I had personally just asked out of a contract last summer.

Well, the story has not gone away and yet, it sort of has. The player is still unhappy. He still has not gotten his way. He’s still holding out. And everybody else is just … moving on. People are watching the resurgent Golden State Warriors and forgetting about peripheral actors like this guy who never plays. In not listening to the squeaky wheel, the NBA is perhaps providing a model for other cultural institutions. The answer to a cynically deployed insistence on one’s victimhood is not a loud rebuke, or withering insults. It’s boring stoicism, a Buckingham Palace guard blankness that simply outwaits its foe. 

The NBA and its media allies are not indulging this player, and their lack of indulgence might represent a cultural shift of sorts. In its quiet, the most progressive major sports league is firmly rejecting grievance as a pretext for power. This is how weaponized victimhood meets its Waterloo: Not with a bang but with a whimper. 

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