Tuesday, March 11, 2003

I'll take a break from definding the Vatican's anti-war position to deal with other matters for a change.

There's something that's been bothering me about the coverage of Barrett Robbins, the Raiders' center who was unable to play in the Super Bowl because he was dealing with a bout of depression stemming from his bipolar disorder.

It is unquestionable that he let his team down. His team was about to play the biggest game of the year, and he couldn't answer the bell. Since the Raiders got blown out, and the backup center didn't allow any sacks or blow any snaps, most think they wouldn't have won anyway, and that may be true.

But at the minimum, this created a distraction, and it may have totally disrupted their game plan. Offensive line play in football, more than anything else in sports, relies on cohesion, on several men working together as a unit. While the center wasn't a particular vulnerability during that game, the Bucs' defensive line had a dominant game. I recall one particular two point conversion play where the left tackle blocked inside, allowing Simeon Rice to run free for the sack. Would that have happened if Robbins was in the game? I don't know.

But those who criticize Robbins asre chided for their ignorace and lack of understanding. Dr. Jerry Punch writes:

The last thing Robbins needs is additional pressure from his teammates. Once they understand the whole story, those teammates likely will regret their critical statements. The last thing he needs is for people to walk away from him right now. Indeed, now Robbins needs his teammates, friends and family the most.

I agree that, as people and friends, Robbins's teammates ought to be supportive. But as teammates and an employer, the Raiders ought to hold him accountable for his actions.

The alternative is to blame the disorder, and thus taint everyone else who suffers from it. Dr. Punch writes elsewhere:

In fact, the stress of a Super Bowl would be the ultimate challenge for someone with bipolar disorder, especially if he wasn't taking his medication. It's important for a bipolar patient to regulate the pressure in his life and and, if possible, to avoid prolonged periods of stress. When there's added stress, combined with lack of sleep and mental/emotional fatigue, and then if alcohol is stirred in -- that's a potent and potentially dangerous mixture.

Fine, but dealing with Super Bowl pressure is part of Robbins's job. Surely, Dr. Punch wouldn't suggest that it's OK to discriminate against those with bipolar disorder on this basis. That's illegal.

Maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way. Maybe nobody needs to be accountable. We shouldn't blame Robbins or the disease, we should just accept the unreliability of people with this disorder as part of the price of living in a discimination-free society. And ao, when the bipolar person in our lives goes AWOL, we should cheerfully pick up the slack or take the hit and be grateful to live in a country that doesn't discriminate.

I'd be curious to see how such a theory would be received in the Raiders' locker room on Super Bowl Sunday.

Barrett Robbins let his team down in the biggest game of the year. It seems like there should be some accounting for that, and it seems unfair to me to spread that accountabulity to every bipolar person in the country who shows up to work each day, and doesn't let his fellow workers down.

But I allow that I may be writing from some ignorance.
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