Maybe Ben Simmons *was* injured, says a lifelong Sixers fan (Opinion)

An open letter to the embattled player.

Ben Simmons in 2017

Ben Simmons in 2017

Brian Fluharty / USA TODAY Sports
jonathangrode

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We got it all wrong. The media, the team, the fans — and, yes, Ben.

This is about more than the Process or 76ers management or team culture or anything Sixers at all. It’s about how we as a society treat professional athletes. We tend to put them on a pedestal, label them saviors.

When that athlete is a first overall draft pick — an All-Star, a face of the franchise — those expectations only grow. We forget they’re just people, like us.

We are Philadelphia fans, so yeah, we’re passionate. We’ve all heard claims we’re too harsh, too quick to judge. That shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but a hallmark. We care. And to us, an athlete should embrace that same sense of unity. Most of all, we want them to be straight with us. This is why AI and Joel will be admired forever: they tell it like it is.

I was devastated when the Sixers were eliminated last year in the second round. I couldn’t watch another game of basketball the rest of the season. And at first, I blamed Ben. But taking a step back, what he did is actually admirable.

Hear me out. He may never be a great shooter. But he isn’t naturally a 30% free throw shooter, either. So what happened?

Ben was injured.

No, he didn’t have a bad foot or an ailing back. He had a mental block. It affected all aspects of his game and finally manifested itself in the anti-highlight heard around the world — passing up the dunk to tie Game 7 in the waning seconds.

If Ben had a sprained wrist and played through that pain, missed the same shots, passed up the same dunks, we might be applauding him. But when it comes to mental ailments, we don’t treat them with the same respect. They’re viewed as a weakness.

Throughout sports lore, there are tons of examples of athletes getting “the yips.” Ben Brewster, a professional athletic trainer, calls it a “form of task specific focal dystonia that is heightened by anxiety.”

Simone Biles recently called it the “twisties” — and, after some hand-wringing and plenty of detractors — for the first time, it was viewed as courageous to bring psychological issues to the fore during a professional sporting event.

Simmons, always a quiet guy, has not done himself any favors since the Sixers’ fateful evening of playoff disappointment.

He has remained silent. Has essentially ghosted on an entire city and flaunted his car collection while refusing overtures from teammates, many of whom are ostensibly his friends. But one of the few comments he did make was that he needed to clear his head and regain focus.

There’s a potential deal on the table now with the Pacers, but if that doesn’t work, there’s still time to right this ship. There is still time to change the narrative. We all love a good story of redemption and second chances.

Philly wants to hear from you, Ben! Not your agent, who probably has spent all of one week in our city. We don’t want leaked reports. We don’t want to see another hype video from some nondescript gym.

Ben, if you are reading this — do not pass up an opportunity once again. Even if you miss, even if you end up playing somewhere else for the rest of your career, you can show us, the NBA, and the world that you are ready to take that shot.

We just want to see you try. And if you try in Philadelphia, the past can be forgiven and  the future rewritten.

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