Editor’s note: In this week’s Proudfoot Corner, veteran basketball reporter Doug Smith looks at the impact of his interview with NBA all-star DeMar DeRozan about mental health, sparking a league-wide discussion on the topic:
The things we get to see and write about in this job are truly amazing: gifted athletes doing extraordinary things with levels of intensity that are hard to explain.
It’s inspiring at times, a true perk. And it’s been one of the great blessings of my professional life to have seen the things I have seen, been the places I’ve been, watched some of the best athletes on Earth do their thing.
But another side, the human side that is far more relatable to regular folks like you and I than any athletic endeavour, truly stands out. And at this time of year, when the best and most important thing we can do is lend a helping hand to those in need — uplift the less fortunate and bring joy to families, particularly children, who could use some happiness — a story resonates.
It was early 2018 and NBA all-star DeMar DeRozan made a plea for the importance of mental wellness: detailing his own fight with depression and having to deal with the expectations of fans who think it’s all sweetness and light being a well-paid, pampered professional athlete.
It isn’t, of course. Athletes fight the same fights as many of us do, and DeRozan’s brave choice to make it public — to admit that things can get tough and insecurities can sneak in — was a welcome moment for professional sports. It was an honour to tell the story that opened the floodgates and led leagues and players’ associations to take mental health issues seriously.
The local fallout was extraordinary. And given the time of year and what Proudfoot Corner represents — helping others — it really hit home.
In April that year, not two months after DeRozan first opened up, it really hit home how people with no real connection can help each other. That Sunday, when the Raptors hosted the Orlando Magic in a basically meaningless game, began with a meeting with local teenagers who had put together a book of supportive messages for DeRozan.
It was a totally unsolicited undertaking by youngsters who had no real connection to DeRozan beyond the tenuous fan-player dynamic, rallying to say: “We’ve got your back.”
I wrote about it that day; it was the only thing I did off that game. And as I walked out of that anteroom with DeRozan a couple of hours before tip-off, I could tell it had gotten to him at a deep level.
The immediate aftermath of the original story was almost overwhelming, but it was on a much grander scale. Fellow athletes, league officials and big-name entertainers all offered their support, and appreciation for bringing a taboo subject to the forefront. This was different, though. This was a bunch of kids who just wanted to help, and let DeRozan know they were there.
That’s kind of what the Star Santa Fund and Proudfoot Corner are all about, isn’t it? This wonderful holiday charity where we try to help others because that’s what people do. Strangers helping those who need it: no questions asked, no accolades expected or wanted. Just doing what’s right.
At every game I go to, I am reminded of the astonishing athletic ability of the women and men it’s been my privilege to write about over almost 30 years at the Star. But it’s moments like those kids and DeRozan and the good they can do — like all those who donate here to strangers — that are special.
On the Corner
We begin this week with an apology to longtime supporter Sophie Hardman of North York, whose name was published incorrectly in a previous edition of Proudfoot Corner. Hardman gave $105 in memory of “my dear husband Allen”…Other returning regulars include Steve Lancaster of Toronto with $400, the Star’s own Bob Hepburn with $200, and J.J. Sweeney of Markham with $50 in memory of “my wife Shirley and son Patrick”… Patricia Regan of Toronto gives $350 in memory of Jimmy Regan, a thoroughbred owner who knew Jim Proudfoot through Woodbine racetrack … Also from Toronto: Brian Foster and Barbara Lindenbach with $105; regulars Niki and Bill Rankin with $105; Star sports team editor Rob Grant with $200; Marlies Kis, who sends $200 in memory of Peter Kis; and Gail McBean “remembering Kathleen” with $150 … Arnold Porter of Burnt River is back with $105 in memory of “Ken Pappas, a great friend who was taken from us too soon”… Robert and Evelyne Stogryn of Whitby donate $210, June Davis of Etobicoke gives $50, and Bob McIndoe of Thornhill sends $154 … Also from Thornhill: Maureen Smeaton returns with $350 in memory of Peter Smeaton; and Michael and Terry Daoust are back with $250… Stephen Connell of Markham also gives $250 … Regular Georges Paradis of Sudbury donates $50 in memory of Wilma Duck of the Dixie Curling Club … Norman Wingrove of Collingwood gives $50 in memory of Joe Wingrove … From Tillsonburg, Sallie and Brian O’Rourke deliver $200 in memory of Irv Horton … And John Spence of Stouffville donates $105 in memory of Gordon and Joyce Spence. Many thanks to everyone!
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