For decades athletes have been looked at as objects. Human beings with the ability to master a skill and perform moves with a ball, skate, or puck that the average human couldn’t do.
Spectators would watch them for entertainment reasons, and sometimes forget the person and people they’re watching are just like them. They’re human.
The late 2010’s saw a rise in athletes speaking upon being dehumanized by spectators and wanting respect brought their way as more than an athlete. Whether it’s LeBron James, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Naomi Osaka, or Simone Biles.
We’re in an era where athletes are more open about their worth and Blazers guard Damian Lillard can see where his peers are coming from.
“I can definitely relate to how they feel," Lillard said. “I look back at some of my experiences as a professional athlete and when people describe what depression looks like or battling mental health issues, sometimes I look back and say, ‘man, I had a couple of those moments.’ I just didn’t recognize what was happening. I definitely understand. We’re in an era where everybody has access to us.”
Lillard didn’t specify which moments in his career he felt vulnerable and questioning himself. One that could be in the back of his mind is the 2018 playoffs against the Pelicans.
He averaged 26.9 points during the regular-season as his stats plummeted to 18.5, the lowest average of his regular-season and playoff career.
In the four-game sweep, he shot 35.2% from the field and 30% from the three-point line.
That series saw Lillard receive much criticism on social media due to his and the Blazers performance. It seemed to be the lowest moment of his career.
He compared how athletes have historically been in front of the world but couldn’t be contacted. Now it’s possible because of social media.
“Everybody could slander you on Twitter and you become a trending topic,” he said.
From June 2020 - June 2021, Lillard received the sixth most abusive terms of any athlete, per Pickwise. Above him were Bubba Wallace, Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Marcus Rashford, and LeBron James.
“It’s a new level of pressure from our past in sports and being professional athletes. It’s definitely a load and burden to carry,” Lillard said. “I think part of it is us accepting it comes with the territory. This is what we chose. A lot of us are compensated very well to deal with the things that we deal with. All those things given, it doesn’t make us exempt from having those mental health issues.
“Battling depression and things like that, we still go through those things. At the end of the day, we’re like everyone else, we’re people. I think it's something we’ve all battled at some point and we all handle it differently. We have to support each other and acknowledge it when someone comes out publicly.”
As Lillard has mentioned, it’s a different era for athletes. Despite what comes with their job description, all he wants for himself and his peers is to be treated fairly as a human.