The Magic touch: Basketball legend Magic Johnson advocates for mental health in Tallahassee
Tallahassee Democrat | By Rory Sharrock | November 2, 2021
NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson has lent his voice to multiple positive platforms across the globe.
On Tuesday at the Historic Capitol inside the Senate Chamber, he spoke openly about the stigma of mental health during the panel event “A Discussion with Student-Athletes on Mental Health.”
“Young people need us to guide them and help them,” Johnson told the Democrat.
“This was wonderful today what happened. A lot of times, they don’t open up and tell you their true feelings. It was great being in Tallahassee. It was great to have an open mic for young people to express their feelings. We all have to come together.”
Johnson spoke for over an hour, engaging with high school and college athletes about the pandemic, social media and building strong communication bonds to counter mental health concerns.
“This is a very important issue that doesn’t get enough attention. I think we need to find more ways to get this out to the general public,” said Florida State men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, who attended the panel discussion.
“Hopefully, it won’t continue to be a problem because of being educated like we were here.”
The event was hosted by Simply Healthcare, a managed care plan that offers insurance in Florida for residents eligible for Medicaid, Medicare and Florida Healthy Kids.
Collegiate student-athlete in attendance included men’s basketball players MJ Randolph and Kamron Reaves of Florida A&M and Malik Osbourne RayQuan Evans and Anthony Polite of FSU. Rattlers men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum also attended.
Johnson’s iconic status as an NCAA champion, winner of five NBA titles and an Olympic gold medalist is well known. He has been a staunch advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness since he publicly announced his own positive test for HIV in 1991. However, his work in the areas of mental health further elevated his status to those in attendance.
“He talked about stigmas in our community. That took me back to my childhood. We just shoved things under the rug. He’s bringing about great awareness. This was great and I’m happy to be here,” McCullum said.
Hamilton added that education is critical to speak on mental health matters and learn effective ways to provide services.
Members of St. John Paul II football, volleyball and the boys/girls basketball teams attended the session. Johnson invited the athletes to the floor to join him. The youngsters from JPII overcame their nervousness and provided commentary that raised the consciousness of those in the room.
When asked by Johnson what are common issues that affect the mental health of teenagers, JPII senior volleyball outside hitter Bellamy Atwood described how social media, when used negatively, can be damaging.
“When you’re a teenage girl, you see other girls and sometimes compare yourself. Even in sports,” Atwood said.
Additional speakers were Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, Chair of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Lisa Gwynn, and Apalachee Center President Jay Reeve.
This wasn’t Johnson’s first time in Tallahassee.
The Los Angeles Lakers legend, businessman and philanthropist also visited in 2017, speaking with lawmakers on Medicaid managed care programs.