Kevin Love entered the NBA in 2008, around the same time that the US social media revolution was fully taking off. Fast company†
Fourteen years and one league championship later, Love, who plays the power forward position for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has seen firsthand how social media can be both a blessing and a curse for athletes. On the one hand, social platforms have helped build communities around sports at all levels and enabled professionals to connect with fans in a more meaningful way. But that 24-hour access also means athletes may struggle to keep some separation between their matchday performance and the never-ending critique of the chatter classes. They are often the target of highly critical or even offensive messages or tweets.
“We have services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year that keep pumping it, both positive and negative,” Love says.
Dealing with negativity is a challenge for any professional athlete, but it can be much worse for those dealing with mental health issues, like Love, who has been clamoring for years about his struggles with depression and anxiety.
For Love, all that anxiety came to a terrifying climax during a 2018 game against Atlanta, when he suffered a full-blown panic attack. The media reported that Love “left with an illness.” That may have been the end, but Love decided to go public about what really happened.
Since then, he has become one of the few elite athletes to speak out about mental health issues. He founded the Kevin Love Fund, which funds outreach organizations that target youth with mental health issues. More broadly, the organization hopes to normalize the mental health conversation and help remove stigma.
Now Love has found a new ally in his battle against depression and anxiety – a tech device called Cove that he wears around his neck that applies “affective touch therapy” to the skin behind his ears. The tactile stimulus is intended to mimic something like another human’s calming touch, and can prompt the mind to deal with negative stimuli in a more even, healthy way. (The Kevin Love Fund also has a partnership with the meditation app Headspace.)
In the demo video for the Cove device, which sells on Amazon for $379 (and includes a one-year membership), Love is shown getting up in the morning and checking his phone to read negative news stories and tweets about his on-legal performance. He says it’s easy to interpret such things as a threat, which can send the mind into a fearful fight-or-flight response.
As for negative social media, Love says there’s really no escaping it: “It finds you,” he says. †[T]snake-like things give you an immediate stress response, and in the morning it’s like fighting it from your first cup of coffee or your first bite of breakfast.”
So the only answer is to learn to deal with it.
Love says the Cove device, which he uses twice a day for 20 minutes, helps prevent an immediate stress response. In the demo video, Love looks down at the negative tweets on his phone, shakes his head scornfully as if to say “here they go again”, then continues with his routine.
Cove’s creator, New York-based Feelmore Labs, says the device stimulates the brain’s insular cortex and acts as a catalyst for the body to create more alpha waves. It creates a mental state similar to post-meditation, the company said. (Love and Feelmore Labs say a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of Cove will benefit the Kevin Love Fund.)
Love says it was the custom to include the device in his day, which made a difference. “Listen, anyone who sells you a quick mental health fix is lying to you, but it’s that consistency in using it for 20 minutes a day, twice a day, and that accumulation over time that really helps you” , he states, adding that he feels his stress response less often and his sleep is vastly improved.
Love emphasizes that the mental health challenges he faces are societal issues, not limited to professional athletes. As leaked Facebook documents and the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen made clear, the pressures of social media can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression, especially among young people.
“I think it’s part of every person’s story right now,” Love says. †[For] teens coming to high school with everything put together on social media like this, when they post a photo they look in their comments, and if they didn’t get enough likes, if they didn’t get positive reinforcement, they wanted to get it removed. ” For them, Love says, it’s all about “meeting expectations.” Just like it is for professional athletes. And just about everyone.
Love isn’t the only high-profile athlete to be made public about mental health issues. Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan, American gymnast Simone Biles, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roof Prescottand Ohio State football player Harry Miller have each spoken out and acted upon their own mental health stories.
Love says that one of the most insidious things about the struggle with mental health is the loneliness it can cause. “When you’re alone, or you’re at home or you’re on the road, not around anyone, you’re isolated,” Love says. “Those are the moments when your mind can start playing tricks on you.”
This is how Love felt during his years of suffering between 2013 and 2018. This is how he describes it in his widely read 2020 essay in The players’ stand†
It got to the point that year where I was just paralyzed by depression. And of course I’m not going to show my weakness to anyone, am I? I was tucked away in my apartment and no one could see me suffer. The only time I left my apartment was to exercise, because that was the only place I felt like I was adding value to the world, period. I would have a brave face to the people around me.
For Love, starting to talk about his mental health issues was the first step toward healing. That’s why it’s so important that public figures, including athletes, continue to open up. For young people who feel all alone might see that even the successful, famous and admired people face the same problems as they do. This alone can re-map the problem and remove the barriers to seeking help.