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Cavaliers’ Kevin Love shares mental health struggles at Tufts University

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love speaks about mental health in conversation with New York Times sports columnist Juliet Macur Thursday at Tufts University. COURTESY OF KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love ran to the locker room in the middle of a game against the Atlanta Hawks gasping for breath. He laid on the floor as he experienced his first panic attack during the Nov. 5, 2017, game.

Love came forward in March and penned an essay detailing the panic attack in The Players’ Tribune. According to the Cavaliers forward, he received almost 6,000 emails within 72 hours of the publication of the article.

Love said from that point on, he would no longer “just stick to basketball.” The five-time NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist decided to use his platform to become a mental health advocate.

At Tufts University Thursday, Love sat down with The New York Times columnist Juliet Macur to reflect on the past eight months since writing about his mental health struggles.

“The Mental Game with Kevin Love” is the seventh part in a series of talks organized by Get With The Times, a live event initiative by The Times to engage college students in current affairs with prominent figures.

According to Lison Zapach, a representative for Conference and Event Services at Tufts, the event sold out in the first three hours with a waitlist exceeding 400 people.

The popularity of this event cannot only be attributed to Love’s prominence in sports, but also the relevance of mental health awareness on college campuses, said Megan Kaesshaefer, executive producer of Get With The Times.

The initiative surveyed college students for people and topics they would like to see onstage. Kaesshaefer said she saw Love’s piece in The Players’ Tribune as an opportunity to merge his platform with surveyed college students’ growing interest in exploring mental health.

“Mental health was No. 3 on the list of topics they wanted to talk about,” Kaesshaefer said. “Tufts has one of the best mental health awareness programs in the country, and they’re doing so much in that space, so we thought that would be a really great fit.”

For Macur, she said what struck her the most about Love’s story was his willingness to place mental health at the forefront of his platform as an athlete.

“For someone in the sports world to show your vulnerability like that is sort of the antithesis of being a big sports star,” Macur said. “You’re a sports star because you’re a hero, you’re invincible, you’re not somebody who can show any weakness. By stepping forward to tell his story, Kevin laid it all on the line.”

Onstage, Love said that he has lived with depression and anxiety for 29 years.

“My playbook was to just put all that stuff over here and suppress it — not talk about it, keep your chin up, don’t show any emotion, don’t cry,” Love said. “I think as young men, that’s what we’re taught to do, and I was afraid that my teammates would think I was weak, people would think less of me, and I would be unreliable on the court.”

Macur described Love’s story as “a big moment” for mental health awareness in sports.

“Kevin Love’s story really has nothing to do with sports,” Macur said. “He was brave enough to step out of the sports world and tell people his story in hopes that other people would find hope in it. He’s really shedding a lot of light on something that is so important for every single person.”

Since telling his story, Love said that his initiatives for mental health awareness have given him purpose outside of basketball.

“Now that I’m sitting here today in my 11th year, it’s given me a higher purpose,” Love said. “I’m very, very thankful for that. I know that with that comes responsibility, but it’s something that I’m comfortable talking about.”

Chelsea Alexander, a first-year urban and environmental policy and planning graduate student at Tufts, said she felt a personal connection to Love’s story.

“I found it really powerful — him describing his first panic attack — because I’ve had a similar experience,” she said. “I just think his courage and bravery to be able to speak about this given his position, especially as a male athlete, is really inspiring.”

Alexander said she walked away with a strong motivation for mental health advocacy and awareness.

“It just lit the fire within me again,” Alexander said. “We’re all struggling. No one’s perfect, even if it seems like they have it together. Starting the conversations, being a resource — it’s kind of reminding me that I want to try to be an advocate as much as I can.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Juliet Macur’s name as Macar. An updated version reflects this correction.

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