Commentary

Holdsclaw enters uncharted territory

Originally Published: October 25, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

The feelings most women's basketball fans experienced at the news of Chamique Holdsclaw's alleged attack on her former girlfriend Tuesday likely were the same as mine. Sadness, relief, worry.

Sadness because we've been aware for many years of the struggle the former Tennessee and WNBA star has waged with depression and her quest to destigmatize it, especially in the athletic world.

Relief because neither the victim of the alleged attack, Tulsa Shock forward Jennifer Lacy, nor Holdsclaw was physically harmed.

And worry because of what faces both women moving forward. Lacy is not physically injured, but her emotional scars may be considerable. And Holdsclaw, who released a book last year detailing her history of depression and has been working as a mental health advocate, is in serious legal trouble.

On Tuesday, according to an Atlanta police report, Holdsclaw smashed the windows out of Lacy's vehicle and fired a shot into it. Holdsclaw was in custody at Fulton County Jail by Thursday night on charges of aggravated assault, criminal damage to property and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Her bond was set at $100,000 on Friday and she potentially faces time in jail.

[+] EnlargeChamique Holdsclaw
AP Photo/Fulton County Sheriff's OfficeChamique Holdsclaw was booked into Fulton County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, criminal damage to property and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Holdsclaw and Lacy, who were teammates with the Atlanta Dream in 2009, had previously been in a relationship. Holdsclaw, the No. 1 draft pick by the Washington Mystics in 1999, has not played in the WNBA since 2010. Lacy, the daughter of former Major League Baseball player Lee Lacy, was a collegiate standout at Pepperdine and has played seven seasons in the WNBA.

It sounds like a weathered cliché to say this is the latest unfortunate chapter for Holdsclaw, in part because it really did seem -- at least to outsiders -- that she had gotten a better handle on the illness that has plagued her for so long.

Depression isn't something you "beat," it's something you treat. Holdsclaw wrote about that and talked with media openly about it being something she knew she'd have to deal with all her life. But she appeared confident about combating it.

The last time I spoke in person to Holdsclaw -- at a charity basketball game in Kansas in October 2011 -- she was gracious, eloquent and personable, as usual. That has been my experience since first talking with Holdsclaw when she was a teenaged freshman at Tennessee in 1995. But I also know how athletes can create an elaborately crafted public front.

When Holdsclaw was drafted, she brought with her to the Mystics three NCAA titles and the aura of a champion, and for the most part, she performed at a high level. But Holdsclaw shied away from the media during the 2004 season when she left the Mystics, then later acknowledged she was dealing with depression that had been exacerbated by the death of her grandmother, who had raised her.

She wanted a fresh start in the WNBA and got it in Los Angeles, where she played in 2005 and '06 before leaving the team early in the 2007 season. This is what I wrote then about Holdsclaw: "So what do we make of the strange case of Chamique Holdsclaw's professional career? In women's hoops, there's never been more of a 'sure thing' who turned into such an enigma."

Holdsclaw didn't play in the WNBA for the rest of 2007 and all of 2008, but did compete overseas. She came back to the WNBA, with the Atlanta Dream, in 2009. But at the beginning of the 2010 season, Holdsclaw wanted out of there, too. (The rumor at the time was Holdsclaw was upset Lacy was no longer with the Dream.) Holdsclaw ended up being waived by the Dream, then signed by San Antonio, but dealt with injuries while with both teams.

When I spoke with her last, it seemed she was moving forward in her life. She was very emotional in talking about her worries about former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who earlier in 2011 had revealed a diagnosis of early-onset dementia. She wanted to spend as much time as she could with Summitt, and hoped to help rally other former Lady Vols around their beloved "second mom." She also discussed her book, along with her goal of raising awareness about mental illness and suicide, which she acknowledged she had attempted. She wanted to reach out to everyone about how to seek help and not be ashamed.

Holdsclaw was continuing that quest just days before the alleged attack. Last weekend, she attended a conference in Orlando, Fla., for Active Minds Inc., an organization that seeks to educate and encourage college students, in particular, about confronting mental health issues. Holdsclaw spoke on a panel there on Nov. 10, discussing athletes and mental health, and she tweeted about her experiences at the conference. The next day back home in Atlanta, Holdsclaw attended the Tennessee women's basketball game at Georgia Tech. She cheered on her alma mater and posed for pictures, including with former Lady Vols teammate and current assistant coach Kyra Elzy.

Just two days later, according to Atlanta police, Holdsclaw attacked Lacy, who described herself as a former girlfriend. Many followers of the WNBA had been aware of the relationship.

Holdsclaw's last post on her Twitter feed was Tuesday night, after the alleged attack: "Everything is a lesson learned. We all make decisions good and bad. As long as we grow from them, that's all that matters. #lessonlearned"

But this is much more serious than just a "bad decision." Unfortunately, Holdsclaw appears to have made a mistake that could have been so big and tragic, we shudder to consider it. Let's hope she recognizes that, and has the support system and resolve to deal with what happens now.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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