When San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV cut off his signature mass of hair this week, Walker said he was parting with more than just a few inches off the top. Walker was attempting to free himself from painful memories in the process.
Walker, 21, revealed on Instagram on Thursday that he started to grow out his hair when he was in middle school after being sexually abused as a child.
“The real truth as to why I started doing this early 5th grade, it was a cloaking device for me,” Walker wrote in the caption, accompanying a video of him describing his hairstyles over the years. “During the summer of my 5th grade year I was around more family. Some [whose] names will be left alone, I was around more.
“I was sexually harassed, raped [and] abused. I even got accustomed to it because, being at that age, you don’t know what is what. I was a gullible, curious kid that didn’t know what the real world was. I had a mindset that my hair was something that I can control. My hair was what I can make and create and be mine. And it gave [me] confidence.”
The video accompanying the post shows Walker covering his face with his right hand as a chunk of hair is being shaved off by a barber’s clippers. Then Walker’s voice can be heard narrating his hair history with corresponding images, from a small mohawk in seventh grade, to dying the mohawk red in eighth grade, to cutting it into a flat top in ninth grade and so on. Walker’s latest haircut features a hook partially shaved into his hairline and a cross shaved into the back of his head.
Walker, who averaged 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds for the Spurs this season before the NBA was shut down in March, also detailed the mental toll the coronavirus pandemic has had on him.
“As of recently, I wasn’t at my best,” he wrote. “Previous history popping up in my head and it sucked mentally. ‘Demons’… Because of this virus, I began to truly look at myself in the mirror and see who I truly was, even behind closed doors.
“Long story short, I have found peace and internal happiness through this journey, God willingly. I forgave everyone — even the people that don’t deserve it. Why? Because it’s dead weight.
“Time doesn’t wait on anyone, so why should I waste my time on it? Me cutting my hair was more than a cut. My hair was a mask of me hiding the insecurities that I felt the world wasn’t ready for. But now, [I am] better than ever. Out with [the] old. In with the new. I have shed my skin mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
“Life will always be hard. Gotta play with the cards you’re dealt with and try and make a winning hand. And if you lose. It’s never a loss. It’s a lesson.”
The second-year guard out of the University of Miami finished his post by wishing peace, love and happiness to his followers and saying he would be taking a break from Instagram for a while.
“This is something that Lonnie has been dealing with for some time,” Walker’s agent, George Langberg, said in a statement on behalf of his client when reached for comment by ESPN. “Being able to share this shows tremendous strength and courage, while also lifting a weight off of Lonnie. It is his hope that by opening up, it will help anyone who reads his story that may have been sexually abused in the past, or anyone who may be going through something similar now, to know that they are not alone. Lonnie appreciates the outpouring of support and appreciates everyone respecting his privacy at this time.”
Spearheaded by NBA All-Stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan sharing their experiences, the NBA turned its focus toward mental health awareness in recent years. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the league required teams to retain and make available at least one mental health professional in their ranks and also identify a licensed psychiatrist their players can use as a resource.