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A Crucial Timeout
Rick Reilly
November 20, 2000
Look at the Player of the Year, scrubbing his hands like a surgeon—50,100 times a day. How can the best athlete in school, the most handsome, with a 4.15 GPA, have such filthy hands?
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November 20, 2000

A Crucial Timeout

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Look at the Player of the Year, scrubbing his hands like a surgeon—50,100 times a day. How can the best athlete in school, the most handsome, with a 4.15 GPA, have such filthy hands?

He begins to walk away from the sink, and now he spins back, sure he's missed a spot, and starts all over again.

Look at Julian Swartz, the 1999 high school Player of the Year in Wisconsin, 23.2 points a game, a full ride to the University of Wisconsin, senior class president, doesn't like to miss church. So why can't he sleep? Why does he keep getting out of bed in the middle of the night, terrified that someone might break in, that someone in the house might the in a fire, and whose fault would it be except his? So he creeps through the halls, checking the locks, the oven, the range top, the microwave, for crying out loud. He begins to go back to bed, and now he spins back to check it all again.

Look at him, freshman at Wisconsin, April 2000, just back from the Final Four, girls doing backflips to get noticed. So why is he sitting on the pier, on the lake, at sunset, writing his suicide note? cannot, nor anyone, take away the sadness, pain, and undescribable feelings I battle every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

Yeah, they have a name for it, but that doesn't make it any easier—OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His obsessions were that his germs, his actions and his imperfections would put others at risk. His compulsions grew into ceaseless thoughts of suicide.

He'd been given Prozac. He'd been sent to a therapist. It was no use. "My brain overpowers all of it," he told his friends. "It overpowers everything." He stopped the therapy.

It's been this way for years. Look at him, fifth grade. He takes a 10-minute shower and then spends a half hour wiping every tile bone-dry so the next person won't slip. Sits on the playground doing homework while the other boys play, checks his answers for the 10th time, gets up to play, spins back to check them again. Sits taking a test, innocent of cheating, yet so terrified he'll be accused of copying that he takes a right answer and makes it wrong.

Look at him on the court—the high school star—6'6", 220 pounds, with a sweet J and big ups. He'll get 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win, but he'll skip the pizza party, go back to his bedroom and brood about a turnover, fret about it all night, write about it, analyze how he let everybody down, until he feels so ashamed of himself that he aches to die.

Look at him, his first college season, winter 2000, staying for hours after practice, can't go to his dorm until he's made 10 treys in a row or 25 straight free throws. Coaches, buddies left long ago. He has to keep shooting because he's letting them down. He's not starting. Shoots until he's bleary, starts to leave, spins back to do it again.

His extra efforts are never enough, which is why, on the pier, the suicide note is finished. Eight pages, perfectly neat, block letters. He tucks it into his coat pocket and heads for Walgreens, where he will buy a bottle of poison, chug it, and at long last will come sleep.

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