In late September, veteran Boston Celtics guard Keyon Dooling surprised the NBA world when he announced his retirement less than two months after signing a new contract. However, it turned out that Dooling had an excellent reason for his decision. After years of suppressing a history of sexual abuse, Dooling understood that he had to open up about his experiences, that he needed a change in his life, and that he had to spend more time with his family. It was a brave choice for a man who had earned the respect of teammates, opponents, coaches, and employers over the course of 12 seasons in the league.
Until now, though, we haven't heard much about the experiences this summer that led Dooling to step away from basketball. As detailed by David Aldridge of NBA.com, Dooling dealt with hallucinations and related issues brought on by a form of post-traumatic stress disorder and had to spend a significant amount of time in a psychiatric hospital. The entire story is worth reading — it follows Aldridge's report on the Lakers' hiring of Mike D'Antoni — but here's a brief glimpse into what Dooling went through:
Dooling was exhibiting behaviors familiar to soldiers returning from war zones. But Post Traumatic Stress Disorders aren't limited to those who fight in wars. Police officers, firefighters, anyone subject to a severe emotional episode can suffer from PTSD. Dooling's problems came to a head in August.
He was at home, playing in the street in front of his home with his kids. A neighbor thought he was playing too roughly with the kids and called the police. There is uncertainty about how many officers showed up -- 10? 12? 20? -- but it was more than one. The Doolings were new to the neighborhood. They know the police were just doing their job, responding to a call. But a bunch of cops showing up, unannounced, banging on your door is a little disconcerting.
"So I ran to the door to see what was going on," Keyon Dooling said. "I was like, 'Who is this knocking like they're the damn police?' That's what I said to myself. So when I got to the door, it was really the police. They was like, 'Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground!' So I got on the ground." [...]
Dooling was taken away and hospitalized for evaluation. He didn't remember voluntarily signing into the hospital. The details are hazy, in part, because he was immediately put on medication. One of the primary symptoms of PTSD is paranoia, and Dooling was surely paranoid. He didn't want to see anybody -- or anybody to see him.
"They try to find the right dosage of medicine," he said. "Unfortunately, the dosages are so high that they start out with, all the side effects hit you. And unfortunately, it's [during] visiting hours. So when my wife was coming, I was scared, because I had no control over what I said, what I thought. It was a bad situation." [...]
After a week, Dooling was ready to leave the hospital. But he had a lot of work yet to do. He knew playing this season would make no sense, which led to the abrupt retirement. He had made strides spiritually. But he had to deal with the memories of the abuse. He had never told Natosha.
It's a fascinating, deeply moving story. What's most impressive, perhaps, is that Dooling isn't using a retirement solely as a chance to work on personal issues — he has also emerged as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. Last Thursday, Dooling and his wife Natosha appeared on Katie Couric's new talk show "Katie" to talk about his history, why he stayed silent, and how he and others are attempting to help fellow victims. Check out these four clips (via Celtics blog Red's Army):
Note: These videos feature very frank, adult (though not especially graphic) discussions of Dooling's history of sexual abuse.
Dooling describes his atypical sexual education and how his abuse began:
The Doolings discuss the prevalence of abuse in the inner city and how Keyon came to understand he had been abused:
Dooling and male abuse expert Dr. Howard Fradkin talk about how people can help victims:
In this web-only interview with one of Couric's staffers, Dooling notes how other high-profile abuse cases, including that of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, forced him to look at his own experience:
Through it all, from the comments to Aldridge to his openness with Couric, Dooling comes across as a man who is confronting his terrible history and its effects on his life head-on. As Dooling says, he sees these revelations as a positive, a chance for him to sort out the facts of his life and begin to understand himself in deeper ways. He's not close to finished (and won't ever be, really), but he's doing his best to get better every day.
Dooling hasn't left basketball entirely — he's currently working in the Celtics organization as a player development coordinator and still holds his position as first vice president of the Players Associaton. That's a big win for the NBA as a whole. If these clips and comments are any indication, any organization would be lucky to have Dooling involved in any form.
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