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Brandon Jennings Claims He's Bipolar

Feb 16, 2010 – 12:18 PM
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Twitter has undoubtedly brought great things to the fan experience, and presumably, allowed athletes more freedom than ever before in putting their true selves on display. But it's a headache for agents and handlers and such, who never really know what their guys will say next, or what to do when they drop a bombshell.

Or, with so much of the new media game up for grabs, trying to determine exactly what counts as a bombshell anymore.

Take this tweet from social media daredevil Brandon Jennings:
I'm Bipolar. (true Story)
Thrown up late last night, when most of the world was still in post-ASW hibernation, it's a hell of an announcement to make. And yet the timing suggests either that Jennings either wanted to bury the news, or thought so little of this admission that it didn't even matter to him that it got maximum exposure.

A brief history of mental illness in the NBA: Delonte West revealed he was bipolar after erratic behavior in 2008; Michael Beasley acted weird on Twitter, but then we found out he'd just been sentenced to a rehab center for running afoul of the league's drug rules. The postscript: When West went off his meds and left the house armed to the teeth, it hammered home how serious an issue this really was.

Back to Jennings, who by comparison made a simple, unprovoked statement that offered nothing in the way of context. As far as we know, nothing has happened to force his hand. In fact, while Jennings entered the league with a reputation for kooky behavior, he's made a goal this first season of reining himself in. If anything, telling the world that suffers from a serious mental illness comes off as self-congratulatory, like, "Oh, and by the way, I'm so under control I can tell you all now."

Jennings isn't West, or what we thought Beasley to be, for the simple fact that nothing appears to be wrong. That leaves us grasping for motivations, or at least rushing to figure out the consequences. Was it a boast? An off-hand remark? And doesn't this turn "bipolar athlete" from tabloid material into a potential PSA?

Frankly, I don't know what's going on with Jennings, or what news he might be trying to get out ahead of. None of us do. But he seems to be doing well, and has some astute, if admittedly rough, instincts for self-promotion. Maybe he senses that, as this disorder becomes more commonplace, it's only a liability or a stigma if there's bad behavior to go with it.

For Jennings to share this now only adds some depth, even gravitas, to a player still known as much for his hair as his stellar rookie season. That the reaction over Twitter has been muted suggests that Jennings played this right, and that unless you've crossed a line, being bipolar is now socially acceptable.

Does this make Jennings calculating, brave, or a little too open? Only time will tell. I prefer to think of Jennings as sharing with his fans because -- plainly, innocently -- he wants them to know who he is. Yes, that's living in the moment, and not really acknowledging the can of worms he may have opened. But it's also totally in line with the Twitter revolution that Jennings has always been on the cutting edge of. Transparency can't cause any more problems than non-stop spin doctoring.

If Jennings is telling the truth -- if he's joking or fudging a diagnosis, that in itself tells us something about the changes in the ways bipolar disorder is perceived -- this could have consequences down the road. Say he does stir up trouble, or go off half-cocked in the locker room. If anyone remembers this tweet, Jennings will find himself in an entirely different kind of public relations mess than if he'd kept himself "sane."

On the other hand, at the risk of downplaying whatever difficulties Jennings has experienced, he'll never get called a problem child or cancer. We're too P.C. for that.

The mere existence of this tweet proves that, in a society where everyone's spouse, neighbor, and grandma are on anti-depressants, Jennings simply isn't putting that much on the line here. Thus far, we have only seen this kind of news come out under duress. Rather than ponder what this means for Jennings's career, we should marvel at the progress it represents for sports and the culture surrounding it.

Update: Jennings was just kidding! I lick my wounds and respond.
Filed under: Sports