One tall young man had the courage to admit that he never learned or, more accurately, was never taught. So Keyon Dooling, formerly with the Memphis Grizzlies and a 13-year NBA veteran, began to teach him step by step. The line grew longer, as more and more young men acknowledged they didn’t know how to tie a necktie either and wanted to learn. This was not a scene at a community center or a middle school mentoring session. These were millionaires, NBA players who had never been taught the proper way to knot a tie.
That is extraordinarily surprising to most anybody else, but not Keyon. He is well familiar with the reality of young African-American men abundantly gifted with skills for the game of basketball with too few skills instilled in them for the game of life. Plus, there is baggage, much of it secret baggage, that comes along from the complex, challenging, dysfunctional environments and backgrounds they escaped. Money and fame can exacerbate their issues. Global media exposure can point out the problems and baggage like those optic yellow highlighters we use to illuminate parts of document or a book.
Keyon knows that drill all too well.
While growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Keyon was sexually molested as a preteen over a number of years. That is a dark secret kept in common by more people than our civilized society would care to admit or acknowledge. But, like so many others, he kept it on the down low, suppressed it as best he could and carried on with life. He carried on at a high level, becoming a standout high school basketball player in Florida, highly sought after by universities across America. He selected Missouri to play his college ball and in 2000 was the 10th overall NBA pick.
Keyon grew up in a two-parent home. However, far too many African-American NBA players grew up without a father’s presence for guidance, security, support and teaching principles of manhood, the hard ones like responsibility, accountability and the easy ones like tying a tie. Children are perfect sponges. They soak up and retain whatever flows out of their exposures...the good and the bad. Basketball exposures flow like rivers in urban environments. So, a young black man can saturate himself. He gets good. As compared to his peers he may even be considered “great.”
He becomes the center of the universe in his family, his high school, AAU, his community, his college, the media and then he gets drafted into the NBA making more money than most corporate CEOs and the POTUS. He’s THE MAN! But what kind of man is he? In the fishbowl of professional sports when the expectations and pressures start squeezing him like a sponge...what comes out?
Answer: Whatever was soaked up in the first place, or not.
Keyon Dooling snapped. A guy made a pass at him in a Seattle restaurant restroom and he nearly killed him. After that, he had a series of nervous breakdowns and spent time in a mental institution. The hurt, the abuse, the attacks on his manhood that he had absorbed as a young “sponge” all flowed out.
So he understands what happens, how things happen and why things happen to young players in the National Basketball Association. His job now is to inform, encourage and counsel. And yes, in many cases be a surrogate father for those whose biological one didn’t bother.
Hear Keyon Dooling’s story this weekend on “A Little R&R on Sports.”
(“A Little R&R On Sports” is a nationally syndicated radio show available on hundreds of radio stations and digital platforms. Stream R&R live Saturdays 11AM EDT/10 AM CDT on sportsbyline.com or on ranronsports.com anytime. In Memphis, tune in Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. on AM 790 ESPN Radio.)