September 10, 2008

Fame, Fortune, And Happiness

In my opinion, one of the most coveted jobs a person can have is to be an NFL quarterback. A starting quarterback. One of the elite 32 best football players alive. You earn millions of dollars. Your name is on the lips of sports fans around the country, around the world. You are young, athletic, attractive, and famous. You've got all the sex you could want, and you play a game for a living.

But Vince Young is proof that none of that makes you happy. Apparently despondent over being booed during a not-exactly-inspiring season opening game (the Titans did win, but largely thanks to their defense), and in some pain with what seems to be a sprained knee (he will not play this Sunday at Cincinnati), Young completely disappeared for about four hours after the game when he was supposed to report for an MRI. No one knew where he was and his cell phone was apparently turned off. The team apparently called the Nashville Metro Police in an effort to locate him.

He was found at a friend's house monday evening, watching the Packers-Vikings game on TV and eating chicken wings. He was despondent and barely responsive to other people, and the head coach had to drive out to visit with him for more than an hour. He apparently made remarks about not caring about his injury, not wanting to play football any more, and not wanting to be the butt of so much criticism for bad results on the field that weren't all his fault or the focus of such intense attention that he couldn't even hang out with his buddy for Monday Night Football without an emergency being declared.

Sports writers can make a lot of jokes about this. But the Titans did something very smart -- they got a psychologist to meet with Young to see if he's actually depressed. Clinical depression is a serious condition and people die from it. (They generally check themselves out because of the powerful emotions of despair and hopelessness that accompany the condition.) A lethargic attitude, neglect of a medical condition, disregard of job, refusal to communicate with associates and loved ones, moods of sadness, hopelessness, and despair, the perception of persecution -- these are all the kinds of things that suggest a depressive episode. There are no indications of any kind of substance abuse, but that is also a danger sign. (And it's not hard to imagine a couple of dude watching football and eating chicken wings having a two-to-six beer night along with a junk food and sports-on-TV kind of night.)

There are signs that Young does not have the condition -- he seemed to have an appetite and had sought the company of a friend. It's hard to know much about his personal life; Wikipedia says that he's dating his high school sweetheart, for what that's worth, but there's no insight into whether that's going well for him or not. He lives in a pretty cool city, Nashville, and it's not all that far from his hometown of Houston that he likes very much. It's easy for us to look at the life of Vince Young and see all kinds of opportunity, affluence, and advantages; it's easy for us to say, "Vince Young is young, good-looking, smart, famous, rich, and talented; he has all kinds of things going for him in life."

But at the same time, it's not at all hard for me to imagine that he was depressed, or at least suffered a depressive episode. There is a lot of stress that goes in to his job. A fair amount of physical punishment. And the boos of fans unhappy with the quality of his work, when he's already frustrated at not having success, really aren't going to make him happy. The attention, the criticism, the lack of privacy -- I can see that all getting to the guy pretty easily. We all feel blue every now and then, but some people get it really bad and can't seem to shake it. I think that's what happened with Young -- he had a really bad day at the office, so to speak, and took it really hard. Combine that with a bunch of other stressors and it's easy to imagine him wigging out for a while.

There are two lessons here. The first is that depression is serious business. In addition to his many other advantages, Vince Young also has a very strong support network around him -- friends, family, and people he works with who are invested enough in him to care about his well-being. Take care to notice the kinds of things in others around you that Young's circle of people noticed in him -- unusually low moods, lethargy, and seeming disregard of important matters. It's not a laughing matter when someone's mental state is so low that there is a risk of suicide.

The second is that, whether Young is really depressed or not, he is apparently not happy with his life. To us, it looks like he's got it all -- a dream job, lots of money, a nice house, lots of people around him, everything you could objectively want from the world. He's got all the stuff he could possibly want, but that sort of thing doesn't make him happy. Happiness doesn't come from stuff. Just like the rest of us, he needs to find what makes him happy and work towards that. Maybe in his case that's building up a good football team and winning a Super Bowl. Maybe it isn't football at all, and that's just his job. Either way, he's got to find out what will make him happy. And the only place to look for that is within. In that sense, he's no better off than you or I or anyone else in the world. So the lesson here is to take stock of what gives you happiness and figure out how to pursue it.

1 comment:

bobvis said...

Great post. It took a long time for me to not actually wish that I was a football player. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have the same desire though for the reasons you mention. It's a shame a 25-year old has this much pressure put on him, but he probably isn't the youngest starting QB in the league. Young is used to being among the best. He was told he wasn't good enough to win the Heisman and bounced back to beat two Heisman winners and ESPN's "best team in college football history" to win a national championship. After that, he was told he wasn't good enough to be picked by the Houston Texans, where I'm sure he would have loved playing.

He showed tremendous leadership skills at UT-Austin, so I have to think he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL as well. However, he was used to playing with a phenomenal college team, and such situations don't exist in the NFL. It's easy to see why commentators would make fun of him. Merrill Hodges has always loved saying that he is going to fail.

Anyway, there are a lot of really lessons in this story. Thank you for pointing it out.
On another note, I thought this was the funniest line from the yahoo sports article. Garrad was the opposing quarterback.
“This is the sorest I’ve been in a long time,” Garrard said. “I don’t like being this sore.