Hopefully you all enjoyed the holiday weekend. With all that out of the way and training camp on the horizon, NFL news is difficult to come by.
Well, we’ve got some. ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue dropped Monday, and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall spent time with us at his home discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the video clip above or the magazine story. So I decided to pull together all of it to post here on our blog.
Here’s Part I of the interview. We'll post more Tuesday:
Michael Wright: This is all about comebacks, and you’ve made quite the comeback in terms of your growth on and off the football field as a player and as a man. Where are you now compared to when you first came into the NFL?
Marshall: When you look at where I’m at today, there’s no comparison. It’s night and day. It’s a 180-degree turn. But I truly believe I went through the things I went through to be able to understand the people that we’re working with now; to empathize. When you go into a community or you go into a place and you can’t relate, people won’t listen. So for me, the field that we’re working in -- trying to bridge that gap in the mental health community -- people understand that I went through it. Just last night, I was texting a young lady who is suicidal right now. That wasn’t a part of my case, but I could understand how one could get there. There’s a lot of people who may look down on someone who may be dealing with something mentally because they don’t understand it. They’ve never been around it. So the comeback for me is significant because I really believe we’re in position to save lives. I really believe that we’re in position to change our world. So I’m excited for this new opportunity and I just want to be responsible with it.
You were just talking about all you went through. You’ve talked about going from a patient to a provider. Can you enlighten us about that a little more?
Marshall: That was a pretty cool experience because we’re still in it, and I think we will always be in it. But I was a patient. I needed help. I needed a treatment facility. I needed a program. I needed doctors. I needed group members, and I got the help that I needed. And now I’m sitting here on the other side just extending a hand saying, "Hey, have faith, have hope, persevere, work hard. You can make it, too." It’s interesting because now whether it’s people in my profession, athletes, general managers, player personnel guys or other executives calling asking us for help, whether it's in their families, in their own household or if it's a situation pertaining to a player. So that's why I say we went from patient to provider because now we have a caseload. We have people that we're trying to help and there are people that are reaching out trying to get our help.
You have a past. You've had quite a few things happen to you in the past and you've done a ton try to distances yourself from that past. But take me back to those times. How were you feeling in your heart, mentally and emotionally, when you were going through some of those things?
Marshall: You know what? I've got to be honest: A lot of people they'll read my rap sheet and be they'll be like, "Ah man, he's been through a lot. He must've been really sick." Well, a lot of it was just me being immature and just going through the growing pains of a teenager to a young man, from a young man to a man. Getting a DUI, that's just something that's just dumb. That's something that is like, I don't understand it. You just have to go through it and learn from it. I could've killed somebody. I could've been killed or hurt somebody really badly. But a lot of times we focus so much on the behavior, of what we see on ESPN, what we see at the bottom of the ticker. But the thing that's most scary is the things that you don't see, the suffering in silence, those times where I had to put a hoodie on to leave my house because I didn't want to connect with anybody. I didn't want anybody to recognize me. Sitting in my theater room day in, day out. It's the darkest room in my house. I can't hear anything, "I’m just gonna sit here. I'm comfortable." But it wasn't like there was something wrong. It was my norm. It felt like that was my reality. I was so deep in it that it didn't feel weird. It didn't feel like it was a problem. People used to look at me, family and friends and like, "Dude, what's going on?" I'm like, "What's going on? I have this amazing house, why do I have to leave? I have this amazing theater room. Why do I have to leave?" But I was so isolated and so hurt that I needed help.
When did you reach that "eureka" moment where you said, "You know what? I need help. I need to get it together?"
Marshall: If it wasn't for football, I wouldn't be sitting here. A lot of us professional athletes are defined by the sport we play. We grow up being put on this pedestal by the world, by our coaches and peers, our family members. We grow up thinking that's what we're here to do. That's our purpose. So for me, I was the same. I grew up being put on that pedestal. I grew up being the best on the field, and I've always been able to control football. That was my sanctuary. That was my place where I could go. That was my safe haven. But it wasn't until I couldn't control what was going on in football is what woke me up. All the relationships and all the drama, all that stuff, that was normal. I grew up in that environment. It was like, "Yo, that's the way of life. But I can control football." But when I wasn't able to do that is when I said, "Man, I need help."