JOSEPH DIBACCO ’19
Keyon Dooling, a former NBA player and current employee of the NBA Players Association, delivered a talk on April 11th in Trinity’s Washington Room about his experience with sexual assault as a 7-year-old and how it shaped his life. Dooling spent 13 seasons in the NBA, playing for multiple teams including the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and the Milwaukee Bucks. Dooling suffered a mental breakdown caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2012, when he was still playing for the Celtics. After that, Dooling made the difficult decision to retire from the NBA and seek treatment. While he did make a brief comeback with the Memphis Grizzlies, Dooling retired soon thereafter.
Dooling’s talk, as part of Trinity’s Sexual Assault Month Awareness Program, started with his harrowing experience of being sexually assaulted by a family friend when he was 7 years old. Coming out of this experience, Dooling had a permanent chip on his shoulder that made him try to prove his masculinity and channel his pent-up aggression into the game of basketball.
Immediately after Dooling was sexually assaulted, he began taking a knife with him everywhere he went. He completely internalized the experience and his feelings, opting to not tell anyone what had happened. He committed himself to basketball, playing his college ball at the University of Missouri, going on to have a successful career in the NBA before becoming what he is today: a life coach and motivational speaker, telling his story to spread awareness and help other sexual assault victims heal.
“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,” Dooling said about coping with his traumatic experience. After retiring from the NBA, Dooling began to see Dr. Timothy Benson, a Harvard psychiatrist who diagnosed him with PTSD. This was a crucial step for Dooling because it gave him the opportunity to finally open up about the emotions he had been bottling up since he was 7 years old. In just a short time with Dr. Benson, Dooling felt the anger melting away and more uplifting thoughts taking its place.
In the summer of 2012, an incident occurred that brought back horrible memories for Keyon Dooling. He was in the bathroom of a Seattle Restaurant when another man in the bathroom made a pass at him. Later on in the evening, Dooling and the man had a skirmish that was ultimately broken up by one of Dooling’s friends. Nothing came of the incident, but Dooling was severely impacted. A week of nervous breakdowns landed him in a mental health facility in Boston. Dooling’s coach at the time, Doc Rivers, pulled him out of the facility, fearing it was not a good place for him. With the help of the NBA Players Association, Rivers moved Dooling to a better facility.
Dooling also credits current Celtic and his former teammate Avery Bradley for helping him through the difficult aftermath of the incident in the Seattle restaurant. Soon after retiring in 2012, Dooling began sharing his story with the world by appearing with his wife on Katie Couric’s show. Once he had been helped by Dr. Benson and Coach Rivers, he immediately wanted to spread awareness and help young victims of sexual harassment cope.
Dooling has since written an autobiography called, What’s Driving You? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA in which he recounts his story for everyone to learn from. The first part of the title, ‘What’s Driving You?’, is the phrase he used to repeat to his Celtics teammates over and over again to get them fired up before a big game.
Keyon Dooling is not shy about telling his story, and he hopes it will inspire sexual abuse victims around the world to pick their heads up and not let one incident define them.
“In order to tell the story vividly and accurately you have to relive some things. I enjoy doing it because maybe, in my own story, somebody will see a piece of their own healing.”