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On My Hill: Ben Simmons’ mental health should be taken seriously

Most fans aren’t experts in psychology, and nobody can truly understand what makes an athlete tick. The Ben Simmons discourse has brought this idea to the forefront.

A rough playoff series that resulted in the Atlanta Hawks defeating the 76ers in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals spelled the end of Simmons’ time in Philadelphia. He opted to pass away what should’ve been an easy dunk, and the Sixers went on to lose by seven.

It was hard to see much else after that game, and social media flooded with clips of the blunder. Simmons was harassed for that play and his struggle to develop a jump shot. Sixers coach Doc Rivers was blunt in his response to a reporter’s question regarding Simmons’ ability to be the point guard on a championship team.

And so the saga began; the summer consisted of mock trades and conversations behind closed doors on his future with the franchise. It was hard to tell what was next for him. As time rolled on, it became apparent that Simmons wasn’t ready to rejoin the Sixers anytime soon after that, and he eventually requested a trade and remained separated from all basketball activities. 

Simmons returned to the Sixers briefly in October, once his salary was threatened to be held. However, he was subsequently thrown out of his sole practice with the team and suspended for a game. Holding out seemed to be his only option, noting that he was in no mental mindset to return somewhere he felt unwanted. 

The Sixers fining for every game he missed, totaling a staggering $19 million, clearly did not help his already shaken mentality.

Simmons never saw the hardwood for Philadelphia this season before being dealt to Brooklyn at the trade deadline. He adjusted quickly to his new scenario and spoke to the media for the first time in months. This, of course, led to an onslaught from the media and fans alike, claiming his mental health was only an excuse or a scapegoat for his errors on the court.

Philadelphia media was particularly brutal in their coverage of Simmons’ departure from the team, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith was skeptical of the honesty from both parties in the situation. 

I understand it but the bigger picture has to be seen. Imagine losing 58% of your salary because you chose not to stay in a painful situation, bearing the brunt of the failure of your company. That’s tough for a 25 year old. Being removed from a situation that made you miserable takes an unimaginable weight off your shoulders. It’s really not surprising to see Simmons happier and in a better state mentally to play basketball.

It’s also not on journalists to claim they know exactly how Simmons is feeling, myself included. What makes Simmons any different than Olympians who pulled out of their events due to being mentally unprepared? Some claim that Simmons used his mental health as a cover for finding his way out of Philadelphia, as he and the Sixers have two different stories on when the team was made aware of his struggles with his mental health. 

“It was just piled up,” Simmons said in his presser for the Nets. “A bunch of things that have gone over the years to where I just knew I wasn’t myself and I needed to get back into that place of being myself and being happy as a person and taking care of my wellbeing. It wasn’t about the money, anything like that. I want to be who I am and get back to playing basketball at that level.” 

The negativity and skepticism of Simmons’ very real claims of his struggles with his mental health are also dangerous because they undermine the feelings of those who aren’t as vocal as he is. 

Mental illness is often a silent battle with no true end or correct solution. Simmons has his faults and weaknesses as a basketball player and an athlete, but his situation is a reminder to be kind and find empathy in those even much more fortunate than you. 

Christo Siegel is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Christo by tweeting him at @imchristosiegel.

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