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Michael Beasley, Dr. Drew and the potential danger of taking Twitter too literally

August 26, 2009 |  7:20 pm
An ESPN First Take segment yesterday featured a great interview with addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky.  Topic?  Michael Beasley's well publicized drug/emotional issues over the last few days, a story that began with him posting a tattoo picture on Twitter and ended with him checking into a Houston rehab center.  The interview's most interesting exchange came when Michael Kim mentioned that Beasley was reportedly being treated for depression and was immediately interrupted by Pinsky, who'd already noted that people battling suicidal depression don't enter addiction rehab centers. 

"No he isn't, because he's in a chemical dependency program.  There is one thing you treat in a chemical dependency program, and that's addiction."

It was nice hearing Dr. Drew endorse how the Heat have handled getting Beasley help and the NBA's ability to handle chemical dependency among players.  But I also grew annoyed upon learning that, unless we're dealing with misinformation about the center housing Beasley or from Pinsky regarding rehab centers in general, that he isn't being treated for depression or emotional problems not related to substance abuse.  As Pinsky noted, professional sports often puts up "smoke screens" about treatments sought out by athletes, often using conditions like "social anxiety disorder" to cover for addiction.  Pinsky understands the urge to protect the privacy, but reminded that "what you see in the press, you can't really believe.  You have to interpret it."

Unfortunately, "interpreting" has become a national pastime these days with Beasley, and that makes me uncomfortable. 

Beasley's marijuana issues have been well documented and, at least to some degree, have grown serious.  That he's in a rehab facility, by definition, says something.  You don't visit a place like that unless you have to.  Thus, I don't feel like I'm speaking out of school by assuming, like Pinsky, that Beasley is experiencing trouble with drugs.  But the legit evidence allowing me to draw such conclusions also illustrates why I'm skittish with the idea of Beasley being portrayed as deeply depressed, much less having contemplated suicide, the way some reports make it sound.  I've read several reports about Beasley's last few days, and the only "evidence" of any kind being offered to demonstrate Beasley's instability are the following statements on his now-deleted Twitter page:

Y do I feel like the whole world is against me!!!!!!! Back on my FTW!!!!! I can't win for losin!!!!!!!!!!

Feelin like it's not worth livin!!!!!!! I'm done

not feelin this at all!!!!!

Without question, there's a chance Beasley's Tweets reflected a somber, deeply unhappy outlook on life.  A young man with no idea how to pick up the pieces of a world collapsed.  I'm not discounting that possibility, nor should anybody.  But you know what else those statements could represent?

A 20-year old kid (and by all accounts, an immature 20-year old kid) venting off the top of his head without considering the consequences.  In 140 characters or less.  Not 140 words, mind you, but characters

That setup doesn't really afford the ability to properly illustrate what's running through someone's head.  Which works out fantastic, since most people don't seem particularly concerned with piecing together the perfect combination of words to capture exactly what they're feeling at that moment.  There's a reason nobody gets paid big bucks to "punch up" Tweets.  Or as a "Ghost Tweeter."  Most folks don't use Twitter to express clear emotions, so I can't help but wonder if the media is being presumptuous in assuming these Tweets so heavily indicate Beasley on the verge of a drastic act.  Suicide is the result of an extremely distraught mentality, and it's pretty difficult to gage that mindset through a Twitter presentation. 

Undoubtedly, "Feelin like it's not worth livin!!!!!!! I'm done" sounds harsh, especially when taken at face value.  But given Twitter's restrictions and the general attitude towards its usage, is "face value" necessarily appropriate?  Couldn't that statement also be an abbreviated form of the following:

"This is what my life is like now?  I can't have a little fun showing off my new tattoo without people examining the photo background specifically to find a way of criticizing me?  Being in the spotlight can be seriously frustrating.  This sucks!!! I'm so over this."

Obviously, I have no idea if that's what Beasley meant, either.  I could very well be way the hell off-base.  But I also don't think that interpretation is out of the question once you factor in the context, social media presentation and the way athletes often treat Tweets as meaningless, even during serious situations.  Armed with a more suitable forum allowing him an ability to actually elaborate and expand on his thoughts (assuming Beasley was even interested in more than just blowing off steam), we could be viewing this incident quite differently.  That nobody seems willing to even consider the context rubs me the wrong way.  I don't want to sound like I'm downplaying whatever Beasley is going through at the moment, because I'm not.  Again, I'm not denying this could be serious.  But must we jump to that conclusion based off so little information, particularly with a kid that heretofore had been mostly criticized as too care free and goofy?  Doesn't that feel like jumping the gun a bit?

It's like answer D in the multiple choice tests from high school: "Not enough information given." 

We live in a world ruled by 24 hour news cycles and endless Internet outlets, that world ain't changing anytime soon, and it's a world that I have to accept (particularly since, like it or not, I'm part of the machine).  But there's also no denying this world means sometimes grasping at straws to keep viewers and readers engaged.   Sometimes that results in news generation, as opposed to reporting.  Examinations of what potential events could mean, as opposed to just waiting a little while to actually be able to report what actually happened and the significance.  I've certainly fallen victim to this mentality at times, I'm sure.  I don't claim to be Walter Cronkite in a TMZ zoo.  But figurative lines exist in the sand, which is why I think so much speculation over Beasley's well being based on so few known factors can be a dangerous game. 

I realize restraint doesn't generally move the needle like doom and gloom, but this isn't just "a story."  It's a young kid's life, and he doesn't need to possibly go through it unfairly labeled as a potential threat to himself.  I also can't imagine that will make it any easier for him to get his life on track, which is what everyone hopes will happen.  It would be nice if people allowed the story to marinate a little more before slapping it on the grill.