Ron Artest’s Mental Health Concern

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November 16, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | When Ron Artest, then of the Indianpolis Pacers, climbed into the stands at the Palace at Auburn Hills to brawl with some Detroit Pistons fans, earning himself a 73-game suspension from the National Basketball Association, a number of national commentators characterized Artest as mentally ill. To Artest’s credit, he acknowledges his mental health problems and has been using his celebrity, now that he is a teammate of Kobe Bryant at the Los Angeles Lakers, to raise money for mental health charities.

His birthday party the other evening drew hundreds of Lakers fans, including actor David Arquette who famously separated from actress Courtney Cox, raising money for Artest’s mental health charity, Xcel University. The mission of Xcel is to “work with community centers and schools to identify high-risk students and give these students an incentive to live a positive, healthy lifestyle.”

The party sold more than $415,000 in raffle tickets, all pledged to Xcel. This isn’t Artest’s only donation to Xcel. By appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live, for example, Artest raised over $120,000 for the charity in one day. Earlier this year, Artest auctioned of his NBA championship ring and donated the proceeds to Xcel.

There is a reason for Artest’s commitment to mental health issues. Remember Artest’s thanking his psychiatrist for enabling him to help the Lakers win the NBA championship? He has been in therapy since he was 13 when his parents separated. Over the years, he received counseling for “anger issues, marriage issues, and parenting issues,” according to the former St. Johns University star.

So who or what is Xcel? Apparently, Xcel has only existed since September this year, so it seems to have been more active in scaring up contributions than delivering mental health services so far. All of the press coverage of Xcel in recent months seems to talk about the charity only in terms of its relationship to Artest, so there might not be any operational Xcel program so far yet to discuss.

As a completely new charity raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars due to Artest’s visibility, Xcel might be well advised to make sure it gets to speak in its own voice to explain what it does (or what it pledges to do). At the moment, donors don’t have much to go on about Xcel but for Artest’s celebrity to gauge whether this is a good charity. It might want to do so as fast as possible.

Artest seems sincere about the topic of mental health, but given his history in the NBA, he might not have vetted the managerial and financial structure of Xcel exceptionally closely. This NBA season is likely to be a repeat of last season with the Lakers walking away with the title again. Let’s hope the title wears well on Artest and provides support for a legitimate youth-serving charity.—Rick Cohen

  • Michael Layken

    Mr. Cohen, I read the article on Ron Artest that you wrote. Other than reading another article to get your facts I was wanting to know where and when Ron Artest auctioned off his NBA ring and for how much? According to your article this is fact. I am sure you called Mr. Artest’s representative also to find out that, according to your article you wrote, that he has no program(s) in place to where the money raised is going? I would like to know who you must have spoke with to write such an article when this individual is doing only good with his charitable efforts.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Mr. Layken: The newswires are only newswires, commenting on the content of the articles we review. They are simply comments on the articles we read. We’d love to do a full article on Mr. Artest’s charity. That’s a great idea. By the way, our article simply connects Mr. Artest’s charity to the challenge that many athletes and celebrities have had in trying to monitor the charities they create or support. We wish him well (and we were big fans of his when he was at St. John’s). Thanks for the tip, and we’ll try to follow up!

  • rick cohen

    Regarding the Artest ring raffle, apparently it is still going on. The site is netraffle.org organized by Celebrities for Charity, and the closing date for the raffle is in December (http://www.celebritiesforcharity.org/raffle/ron_artests_win_my_bling_raffle/). When he first announced the raffle, he immediately attracted some $120,000 in $2 raffle purchases, crashing his website in the process (http://www.cnn.com/2010/SPORT/10/28/ron.artest.nba.ring/). He hopes, according to the CNN report, to raise $1m. To call it an auction, as the press has, is wrong. It’s really a raffle (there are other prizes too). Nonetheless, Ron Artest should make sure he does the best possible due diligence and follows the best advice to make sure that his charitable contributions, whatever they turn out to be in the end, get used properly. Too many celebs, including athletes, have seen their charitable ideas turn on them through omission or comission regarding the accountability of the entities they created or supported. When you read Ron Artest’s story, you really want the best for the man and for his charity. We do too. We will watch and report on this–outside of the NPQ Newswires.