WASHINGTON -- Lakers forward Metta World Peace lent his star power – and his personal story – to a Los Angeles congresswoman’s effort to fund mental health services in schools.
Just don’t ask him to auction off any more championship rings.
“I kind of wish I hadn’t,” he joked at a news conference near the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, spoke about his own issues with mental health and the critical role that treatment had played in his life, in support of legislation from Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) that would create a competitive grant program to allow school districts to hire mental health professionals in their districts.
“I’m trying to just be a part and be a champion for the congresswoman and for everybody else who’s trying to bring to light the importance of early intervention,” he said.
Napolitano tied her most recent push for such legislation, which failed to pass in the last three Congresses, to the renewed efforts to reduce gun violence.
“We need to destigmatize the issue not only to prevent future tragedies but also to help the community, the public and the billions of dollars that business loses because of this illness – and it is an illness,” she said.
World Peace said the national conversation about gun violence has extended to the community of professional athletes as well. The issue “is not just in my neighborhood. As you can see it happens all over.”
“It’s definitely a topic of discussion among athletes because a lot of athletes grew up in violent neighborhoods. It’s something that we wish we could change,” he said.
But few have engaged in the national conversation on the issue, as he has on mental health issues. He noted how he sold his 2009-10 world championship ring at auction to raise money for mental health programs across the country. “I didn’t do it for the attention,” he said, though he regrets no longer having the memento. “But we raised a lot of money.”
Asked about his history of on- and off-the-court scuffles, World Peace drew a distinction between what he describes as acts of “passion” in the heat of a game to any mental health issues.
“A lot of people are suffering from way bigger issues than on the court passion. Tussling or being tangled up on the court -- that’s just basketball game,” he said.
Napolitano’s bill has 45 cosponsors. A similar version of the legislation is being offered in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who Napolitano said was working on finding funding sources to move the bill forward.