Dennis Rodman has followed up his latest trip to North Korea with a trip to rehab for alcohol addiction. The stakes were especially high in Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” missions, but Rodman has never been one to shy away from controversy. In the U.S., Rodman has sounded the rallying cry against some of the most highly institutionalized forms of prejudice within our society—gender and sexuality. And he did this largely while in the employ of a professional sports organization, an area not exactly known for its progressive attitude.
A high-stakes gamble is either exponentially rewarding or devastating, and this time Rodman threw snake eyes. But there are some people, incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver among them, who have conceded that Rodman has helped raise awareness about how repressive North Korea is. While it is unlikely that Rodman’s big-hearted but naive scheme to bring North Korea and the United States together via “basketball diplomacy” has had any lasting political impact, Rodman’s personal issues at least are being dealt with in a New Jersey rehab.
Rodman’s alcohol-related issues of the past include two drunken driving charges, one resulting in an arrest in 1999 and the other in a no-contest plea in 2004. In 2008, Rodman went through an outpatient rehab program. One year later, he was battling alcohol addiction again. His family and friends staged an intervention, which eventually led to his appearing on the show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. After the show’s end, Rodman continued to work on his sobriety by moving into a sober-living facility. This second rehab stint was done through the reality show Sober House.
With regard to Rodman’s third stint in rehab and most recent trip to North Korea, his agent Darren Prince issued a written statement that said trying to be a “fixer” and a “super human” political figure was too much pressure for Rodman. His drinking, Prince revealed, had intensified to unprecedented levels. Perhaps his failure to cope with the pressure was palpable to the reporters who swarmed him on Monday in Bejing, the first stop in Rodman’s flight back to the from the so-called Hermit Kingdom. Crying as he answered the reporters’ questions, Rodman stated that he was not an ambassador, that he was not anyone, and that the only thing he wanted was for the world to see that the U.S. and North Korea were able to get along in sports.
He has certainly accomplished that much, but at what price? Rodman has been lambasted by the press, the NBA, human rights organizations and pretty much almost everyone else for being chummy with Kim Jong-un. There was no financial remuneration, so that takes financial gain out of the list of possible motives. In addition to raising awareness of the repressive North Korean regime, perhaps this time Rodman will be finally be successful in dealing with his addiction to alcohol. He could easily be the poster boy for the non-ironic and trendy inspirational phrase “fail harder.” It will be interesting to see where the rebound will take him.
By Donna Westlund