Dwyane Wade and the NBA’s insensitivity to his migraines

by Diana E. Lee

Sports journalists recently discussed discussing Dwyane Wade’s migraines and his decision to try wearing goggles to deal with light sensitivity.

News outlets like ESPN proved once again they know how to treat migraine disease as a serious, burdensome medical issue in reporting on Wade’s health situation. But somehow at the eleventh hour the story got way more complicated and the NBA revealed they don’t quite “get” migraines.

Dwyane Wade has lived with migraines for many years. They usually don’t interfere with his job playing professional basketball for the Miami Heat, but this year they did. He missed a game due to a lengthy migraine attack and found himself dealing with lingering light sensitivity and visual disturbances. By trial and error in practice he found that tinted goggles were helpful in allowing him to play without making his head worse. He announced he would play in the goggles in a game. But just before game time the NBA said he couldn’t. When the NBA officials examined the goggles they said they would give Wade an advantage by making it impossible for opposing players to see his eyes.

In fairness, headline writers may have tried to create controversy where there really wasn’t any: the Heat found Wade a different pair of goggles to use and the NBA approved them. Unfortunately, that pair seemed to interfere with his ability to play more than they might have helped.

But seriously, what’s the problem, NBA? The goggles were so heavily tinted opposing players wouldn’t be able to see his eyes, which would give him a competitive advantage? He’s trying to find a workable solution to a medical problem. Would it have been so hard to permit him an exception for his health condition and allow him to wear the goggles he’d been practicing in? That pair had a host of benefits: he knew their tint was sufficient to help with the light sensitivity, how they fit, how it felt to have them on his face and that they were comfortable enough to be worn while he played.

Unfortunately their reaction is similar to what people experience every single day when their migraines make it difficult for them to do their work. I know the NBA doesn’t owe any of us anything, but their bad decision is a depressing reminder of how misunderstood migraines and all their nasty symptoms can be.

Diana E. Lee is a chronic migraine patient who blogs at Somebody Heal Me.

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  • http://DoctorMarcus.ca DrJM

    I certainly can see your viewpoint. Though the viewpoint of those regulating elite sports is very different. They are trying to prevent unfair advantages from creeping into the game.

    Take golf. You may remember they prevented a golfer who couldn’t walk from using a cart. That may seem extreme but equipment creep has made it’s way not only into golf (balls and other technology) but also into swimming (body suits), etc.

    Migraine headaches would be difficult to document and if tinted goggles were found to be an advantage, we might see the diagnosis of migraines increasing in frequency in the NBA.

    It’s a slippery slope managing the needs of the disabled with the interest in keeping the (literal) playing field level. I side with your viewpoint as applied in general society but in elite sports, I side with the decision of the officials.

  • Megan

    The NBA has doctors too. It’s not just a bunch of administrators making mindless decisions regarding health. If Wade has trouble with the light, perhaps he shouldn’t be playing in the NBA. Where do you stop with the ‘special permission’ regarding someone’s medical issue?

  • http://clinicalposters.com ClinicalPosters

    “Unfair advantage?” “Can’t see his eyes?” Why would you want to see the eyes of a man with migraine discomfort? It’s likely to send an inaccurate message anyway. Squinting could be interpreted as aggression when, in fact, it’s a grimace from light disturbance.

    It is truly amazing that he can function at all in a professional sport during a migraine episode. If officials were looking for an excuse to exclude him, they would have been better of citing potential injury while in a physically compromised state. Then again, that might describe half the players on the court.

  • Dave

    couldn’t some combo of tinted contacts and clear goggles work? You wouldn’t want contacts without eye protection and then take an elbow to an eye. Still I can see how not being able to see where someone is looking could be a huge advantage in both football and basketball. Baseball, not so much, but any sport with interceptions would apply.

  • walter keyes

    I once had a patient who would take a walk until his migraine ceased.He felt it resolved more quickly with exercise.I have heard of this penomenen from one or two others.I wonder if Mr.Wade’s migraines are better with exercise.My nephew twice played against Lebron in high school.I was oot both times.Later, for the first time since the days of Bob Cousy,I watched the Cavs and Labron play and couldn’t believemy eyes.The game was soathletic and the skill of the players and the teamwork were amazing to me.I finally got to watch Mr.Wade in the playoffs.He was spectacular!