The L.A. Lakers’ Ron Artest brought his advocacy for mental-health awareness to the nation’s capital yesterday, discussing the issue with members of Congress, according to CNN.
Artest, appearing in a panel on behalf of Rep. Grace Napolitano, spoke on behalf of the Mental Health in Schools Act (which Napolitano authored), legislation that would help public schools fund mental-health services.
“I’ve personally experienced the benefits and transformation a person can have, just by having access to qualified mental-health professionals,” Artest said, according to a press release from Napolitano’s office.
Artest has remarkably transformed himself into the NBA’s de facto spokesman for mental health in the past year, as he raffled off his 2010 NBA championship ring to raise money for various mental-health charities. The raffle, which ran two months, raised more than $650,000 for the charities, according to ESPN Los Angeles.
He also debuted a public service announcement on mental health back in December and donated $50,000 to Pacific Clinics, a California-based organization that offers mental-health care to children and adults.
Now, it’s impossible to avoid the subject of Artest becoming such a high-profile spokesperson for mental health without someone thinking you’re cracking a bad joke.
The odds of him becoming one of pro sports’ biggest advocates for mental health had to be about a billion to one back in 2004, when he charged into the stands and attacked a fan during a regular season NBA game. His case probably wasn’t helped with his interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” show, where he appeared in nothing but his boxers.
But starting with his post-Game 7 interview in the 2010 NBA Finals, where he thanked his psychiatrist, Dr. Santhi, for helping him to relax, Artest has been making good use of his high-profile status as an NBA player on the two-time defending champion Lakers.
The L.A. Times, ESPN, and NBA.com all ran features in the fall of 2010 about Artest’s devotion to the mental-health cause. He visited the Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, Calif., back in September, to speak with several hundred youngsters about mental-health problems—and to address some parents’ concerns.
“I know no parent wants their kid to be hearing from the guy who was on the Jimmy Kimmel show in his boxers,” Artest told the students, according to the L.A. Times. “But I put all that aside today.”
“I was like, I don’t think I can do this, this is an important issue and I won’t want to get out the wrong message,” Artest continued. “Then I said, ‘You know what?... Who else better to do this than me?’ ”
Personally, on the same day of hearing about a sports fan poisoning 130-year-old trees because of a long-standing rivalry, I couldn’t think of a better, more sane contrast than Artest’s well-intentioned mission in Washington.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.