Los Angeles Lakers: Grace Napolitano

Ron Artest: Unlikely messenger, important message

September, 10, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
As far as keynote addresses go, it was 100 percent Artestian, strewn with diversions, tangents, and stories including an eclectic array of characters from his extended network of family and childhood friends.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
To the long list of things Ron Artest has been called through the years, it may be time to add another: Mental health advocate.

But Thursday, speaking to a crammed auditorium at Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, Ron Artest wasn't graded on the elegance of his delivery, just his willingness to speak openly about a subject so many, adults and children alike, are uncomfortable addressing: mental health. Yes, Artest is aware of the irony: "I know no parent wants their kid to be hearing from the guy who was on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in his boxers," he joked from the podium, after admitting to concerns he wasn't exactly the expected source for an important message.

Artest was there in support of Rep. Grace Napolitano (D- Norwalk), author of a bill which would provide additional funding for mental health services in schools across the country. And he was not simply lending his name. While details are still to be ironed out, Artest said Thursday he's investigating ways to put the championship ring he chased for over a decade up for auction to help raise funds for more psychologists and services for students. Calling him a policy wonk is a strech, but Artest's belief in the value of counseling is real, reflected in a consistent refrain to the students: Nothing is weak or weird about seeking help if you need it. Talk to someone. Anyone.

"I don't think you have to be afraid," he told them.

Artest spoke openly about seeing his school counselor, his experience in marriage counseling, and how a sports psychologist helped him focus his anger and aggression more constructively on and off the court. He was plain about his shortcomings. "As a kid, I had a temper," he said. "As an adult, I was a bad father."

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