Hartford, Connecticut, April 18, 2017 – Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling came to Trinity College recently to discuss his personal journey of overcoming childhood sexual abuse and to help raise awareness about sexual assault. After being introduced by Ed Ogundeko ’17, a co-captain of the men’s basketball team, Dooling spoke in Mather Hall’s Washington Room on April 11 to a crowd of students, staff, faculty, and the public.
Before retiring, Dooling played almost 13 years in the NBA, including time with the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. In 2012, going into his final season with the Celtics, Dooling had a mental breakdown due to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Dooling said he decided to choose his life and mental health over his career in the NBA and began to seek treatment.
Dooling began his presentation by revisiting the traumatic experience of being molested at age 7. After being sexually abused, Dooling said he sensed a shift in who he was as a person. “I had this thing called anger creeping into my life,” Dooling said. As a result of internalizing his experience, Dooling said he started indulging in deviant behavior at an early age to prove his masculinity to himself. He used basketball as an outlet from his unresolved pain and focused on attaining a scholarship for college.
Despite trying to suppress his emotions, Dooling said he continued to face outbursts of anger throughout his adolescence and into his young adult years. At age 32, Dooling said, “I started to feel this rage coming up in me. I was getting all these flashbacks from when I was 7 and I was trying to push those visions down. I didn’t understand what I was going through.” Dooling checked into a mental institution, where he was diagnosed with PTSD. “In one week of therapy I was able to dump all these years of baggage off and get the tools to manage and process it,” he said. “I was feeling all these emotions that I’d never experienced because as men we are told we aren’t supposed to cry.”
Dooling decided to turn his pain to passion. As he continued his healing process, he chose to help others by being a voice for those who have experienced trauma and may not be able to speak for themselves. Dooling said he began to reinvent himself and to empower others to take care of their mental health. “If we work so hard to take care of our physical health, we also have to work to take care of our mental health,” he said.
Two student-athletes on the Trinity football team explained what they learned from Dooling’s talk. Denzel Munroe ’18 said, “His story resonated with me and I learned a lot about myself from it.”
Sonny Puzzo ’18 added, “One of the things that stuck with me, being a male athlete, after listening to Keyon speak, was the courage that it takes to recite his story to us. Something that a lot of people would normally be ashamed to admit, he shares with audiences in hopes that it could help people in situations similar to his own.”
Monique Daley, the event organizer and the training and program coordinator for Trinity’s Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC), said, “These talks are important to host at Trinity. Developing the academic mind while simultaneously developing the social and emotional self of each and every student is important in shaping the campus culture.” She noted that Dooling addressed a sensitive matter from a different perspective: a black male athlete who has survived sexual violence. Daley added, “To effectively address sexual violence and or challenge negative or misunderstood perceptions of masculinity, stereotypes must be broken and addressed.”
Dooling has authored an autobiography titled What's Driving You??? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA. Through his book and his motivational speaking, Dooling said he has shared his experience in the hope of leaving a “trail of healing” so someone else who might be suffering can learn from his story. He concluded his discussion with this encouragement: “If you have an issue, it doesn’t make you crazy or weird, it makes you human. Everything has a process to it. Accept, respect, and embrace the process.”
Dooling’s talk was sponsored by WGRAC, with support from many offices across Trinity’s campus. WGRAC will next host “Take Back the Night” on April 18 at 7 p.m. at Vernon Social and a “Trauma Informed Workshop for Survivors of Sexual Violence” on April 26 at 4:30 p.m. in Mather Hall’s Rittenberg Lounge. WGRAC’s Masculinity Project will host “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” to encourage support and empathy for survivors of sexual violence on April 28 at 4:00 p.m. on the Main Quad (rain location: Mather Hall).
Click here to see a Hartford Courant article and video about Dooling’s talk.
Written by Lorig Purutyan ’17