NBA ambassador talks post traumatic stress
April 19, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (April 19, 2012) -- Former NBA referee and now "NBA Cares" ambassador Bob Delaney visited Fort Sill April 11 to speak with Soldiers about his experiences with post traumatic stress.
He said it's important for people to realize PTS is not a mental illness, it's a human condition and we are all susceptible to it with the most common cause being automobile accidents.
"However, those who serve in the military or emergency responders are in the higher risk group due to the jobs they perform," said Delaney. "We have an obligation and a national debt to the men and women who serve us to help them reset so that Main Street USA is their normal, not Main Street Kandahar or Baghdad."
For a man who carried a whistle to officiate basketball games, Delaney's PTS message resulted from his time as a New Jersey State undercover policeman when he was asked to blow the whistle on organized crime families.
Through his undercover work, he became the president of a trucking firm that infiltrated the social fabric of organized crime families and did business with them. What was supposed to be a six-month tour became three years as he gained the trust of mob criminals, became friends with them and their families. Knowing that he would one day have to break that trust, he believed he violated a principle he learned in grade school that a good person doesn't tell on his or her friends.
"I knew midway through this something was going on inside me I'd never experienced before," he said. "But I suppressed it, and did so for a number years after."
In time, authorities gathered the needed evidence and arrests were made. Delaney recounted during fingerprinting, one criminal asked him why the police arrested him. Before he could answer, a fellow officer revealed Delaney's true identity. He said the criminal gave him a look of disappointment and hurt, not understanding how a friend could do that to him.
"I had an emotional roller coaster ride inside of me, because in my eyes I abused [his] trust ... if someone did that to me, it would bother me," said Delaney.
Mob hit men were ordered to kill Delaney and that trauma, along with the paranoia and hyper-vigilance only intensified what he was already feeling.
"I lived through that, and because I did it in a uniform, I believed I could handle anything," he said. "I was trying to put on a facade that none of this bothered me while internally I was going through all kinds of emotions."
Healing, something he refers to as peer-to-peer therapy, began for Delaney through conversations with another police officer who worked a similar operation.
"You can't expect you wife, husband or best friend to be that therapy person if they didn't experience what you did," he said. "It's an unfair expectation to put on people."
He said people need to realize a Soldier who comes back for leave or returns after his tour is done is a different person by the nature of the experiences he or she experienced.
"They don't need to go to football games, because the fireworks at the football game means a whole different thing to the fireworks they've been living with," he said. "That triggers a response in them that they try to hide because they don't want to upset their families."
Families or friends might perceive this as someone not having the fun they want him or her to have, and that can be like two storm clouds that come together and explode, he said.
It took him about 20 years to heal from PTS, something he said he continues to work on daily. He said speaking about PTS began the healing for him and that even speaking out loud to yourself helps.
"When you talk with someone else and they state something similar, there's a relaxation and an awareness of it's not only me, I'm not nuts or crazy and it's OK to talk about this," said Delaney.
Growing up playing basketball in grade school then college, Delaney found release from the demons of his past by officiating basketball games. Despite the negativity associated so often with sports officials, he said calling games gave him an inner peace.
"All that activity was healthy, it helped with my hyper vigilance and gave me that peace," he said.
At the time, his thoughts were on remaining a state trooper and officiating college games on the side. However, a chance meeting with the NBA director of officials at a game Delaney officiated led to him climbing the ladder through NBA minor leagues and then a 25-year career refereeing NBA games. He said Soldiers or anyone dealing with PTS need to find that activity that can help them through tough times.
Spc. Jared Page, Warrior Transition Unit, could relate to Delaney's peace-giving activity. Since March, the Soldier has umpired high school baseball games and said he gleans a great deal of satisfaction from it. He added Delaney gave some good ideas for overcoming PTS.
"I tell people all the time, 'if you are what you do, then when you don't you aren't.' If all you are is a Soldier, if you're no longer soldiering, you don't exist," said Delaney. "We're much more than this, and we need to recognize that. Part of the recognition of going through PTS is that you are more than the Soldier and that there are so many things that are important in life."
Embarking on this opportunity a number of years ago, Delaney has talked with Soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Landstuhl, Germany.
He believes there needs to be an education awareness program in this country about PTS.
"We've done it with HIV/AIDS, alcohol, drugs and tobacco," he said. "The more we are educated and aware of what's taking place, the better we are in responding to it."
Maj. Richard Moore said Delaney's message shows senior military leaders intent to establish a dialogue with people who suffer from non-military related PTS but are still willing to share their perspectives with Soldiers and their families.
Serving as the Graham Resiliency Training Campus commandant, he especially appreciated Delaney's phrase: "If you are what you do, then when you don't, you aren't."
"This applies to all our service members and their families as they make the transition from the military under whatever circumstance that may be. You have to have something in your everyday routine that brings you happiness or balance in your life, other than your career or job whenever that chapter in your life comes to a close," he said.
He added "NBA Cares" is accurate for an organization that operates through many outreach programs, something he called social responsibility.
"As an organization we've been blessed, and we need to share that with others who have been serving us," he said.
Delaney summarized what meeting and speaking to Soldiers means to him by recalling what it was like to officiate NBA games and stand on the same floor with some of the game's biggest all-time stars.
"For 25 years I got to be around the world champions of the game of basketball -- now I get to be around the world champions of the game of life."