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Spurs coach Popovich mounts a simple, strong defense of Black History Month.

You can always count on Pop to say what he's thinking.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a bit of a reputation for speaking his mind.

Back in May 2017, Popovich denounced the self-centered "game show" atmosphere brought on by Donald Trump's presidency.

In September, he went on a bit of a press conference rant about Trump's "childishness" and "gratuitous fear-mongering," eventually launching into a pretty epic speech about why it's important for him to use his platform to speak out on important issues like racism, even if they don't affect him personally. (He's white.)


The Spurs' Dejounte Murray talks to head coach Gregg Popovich during a 2017 game. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that when Popovich was asked about the NBA's Black History Month celebrations, his answer would be worth a listen — even if it's a bit hard for white people to hear.

Asked by reporters why he felt it was important for the NBA to honor and promote Black History Month, he basically said that it's a no-brainer:

"I think it's pretty obvious. The league is made up of a lot of black guys. To honor [Black History Month] and understand it is pretty simplistic. How would you ignore that? But more importantly, we live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet. And it's always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people. The point is that you have to keep it in front of everybody's nose so that they understand it, that it still hasn't been taken care of, and we have a lot of work to do."

It's easy to pretend that racism is a thing of the past, but that's simply not true.

It's pretty easy to get defensive when Popovich and many others say things like, "We live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet." After all, nobody wants to be called racist, and nobody wants to think that they play a role in perpetuating discrimination.

Considering what some on social media are saying in response to Popovich's latest comments, that defensive instinct comes through loud and clear.

"If this country is Racist [sic] then why are we celebrating Black History Month?" asked one Twitter user. "Pop is an idiot...why doesn't he resign and give his job to a black coach if he feels he's part of the problem?" tweeted another. "What are we celebrating? Why do we single out a month for blacks? Can we have white history month?" asked a third.

"We live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet."

It's indisputable that racism against black individuals and other people of color is real. There is ample data confirming the inequality and negative treatment aimed at black Americans.

For example, an October 2017 survey found that on average, prosecutors offered white defendants more lenient plea deals than their black counterparts. Experiments in so-called blind auditions and job applications, as well as a look at how doctors treat people of color compared to white people, demonstrate the existence of unconscious bias.

Popovich and the Spurs attend the White House to celebrate their 2014 NBA championship. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

We are a racist country with a racist history. No, that doesn't necessarily make you a racist. It just means we have a lot of work left to do.

Just as Popovich said, if we really want to live in a more just world, we've got to keep this issue at the forefront of our minds.

Black History Month is a great opportunity to think about the many ways black Americans have shaped our country for the better in the face of crushing oppression. It's in acknowledging both the good and the bad that we can help build a a country that lives up to the lofty ideals lauded by many self-proclaimed "patriots."

Patriotism isn't about ignoring a country's faults, but about living each day to address them.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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