- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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"We all work to become better people," said resident philosopher and Marshall teammate Martellus Bennett, "and life is all about growth, whether it's becoming a better brother, a better father, a better friend, better husband. We all try to grow in some area of life every day, and I think [Monday], [Marshall] had a little bit of growth with his inner-me."
Sometimes growth is knowing how to say the right thing. And sometimes it's saying as little as possible. Marshall did a little of both when confronted with one of those situations when most charismatic personalities with a microphone in front of them and an arsenal of verbal ammunition would have fired back.
Instead, Marshall took a deep breath Monday and said he was "praying" for Brandon Meriweather, the Washington Redskins' scholar of a safety who nearly dismembered Marshall and fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery a week ago Sunday. Meriweather delivered on Marshall and Jeffery what has become a signature move for him -- helmet-to-helmet hits (that drew a one-game suspension from the league) -- and topped it off by hitting Marshall below the belt.
Marshall had talked after the game about Meriweather failing to grasp the long-term ramifications of hits like those he doled out and said "maybe he needs to get suspended or taken out of the game completely."
When Meriweather returned from his suspension Monday, he was asked by the Washington media for a response to Marshall's comments and came up with: "He feels like I need to be kicked out of the league. I feel like people who beat their girlfriends should be kicked out of the league too. ... You tell me who you'd rather have: somebody who plays aggressive on the field or somebody who beat up their girlfriend?"
Bypassing, for now, the opportunity to dissect a man who went on to reason that he will simply have to debilitate his opponents by inflicting career-threatening knee injuries from now on, it's one of those battles where most would simply be grateful not to have a proverbial dog in the fight.
But as Bennett said, life is about growth. From an outside view, which is the only perspective any of us but Marshall's family and closest friends could have, the receiver has indeed experienced that after spending a considerable part of his first Bears news conference in 2012 addressing his history of domestic violence.
"I understand the perception out there," Marshall said on his first day at Halas Hall, just days after he was accused of punching a woman in the face during an incident at a New York club. "Those are the seeds I planted early in my career, up until last year. ... This time it's a little different, and I'm excited about that difference."
Marshall was never charged in the New York incident, and he was acquitted or had charges dropped in several other domestic incidents.
"Given my history, I definitely understand the concern, the questions," Marshall said that day, and he has not ducked them since.
That day, Marshall explained to a new audience his 2011 diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, an illness that led to a long history of emotional outbursts. The diagnosis, along with therapy and treatment, saved his life, he said, and he embarked on a mission to bring awareness to BPD and advocate for better treatment and medical coverage for the mental illness.
Along the way, he has been a good citizen and, save for some moments when his honesty revealed a healthy and well-formed NFL receiver's ego, a good teammate.
"We've all made mistakes," Jay Cutler said Tuesday. "I've made mistakes. Every guy on this team has made a mistake. I think Brandon is looking toward the future. He's learning from everything he's done in his past. He took the high road. That's just the guy he is these days, a high-character guy. I applaud him for that, and everyone on this team supports Brandon, on and off the field."
Marshall has taken a special interest in helping the young Bears receivers, bringing Jeffery to Miami to train and instilling in him a newfound interest in proper nutrition. Marshall has been forthright about using his football celebrity as a platform to bring more attention to his cause. And let's face it, it has helped that along the way he has been superb and productive on the field.
His teammates like him because of that too, but also because he does not radiate phoniness but rather the attitude of a guy who wants to win and do the right thing.
He had a brief talk with Meriweather last week, Marshall revealed, and said they did not see eye-to-eye.
"From my end, I think it was more about, 'Hey, man ... life after football ... your safety ... other guy's safety ... that was kind of scary seeing you laid out against Green Bay ...'" Marshall said. "For him, it was more about the money, being suspended and missing a game. We were on two different pages.
"I'm just praying for that guy. I just want to see the health of the league get better and for guys to stay healthy. For guys like that, I'm just going to pray for them."
Reporters learn to be cynical. Once, before I knew better, I wrote of an NFL running back with a drug problem and declared him cured because he promised us he was. The story ran in the newspaper on Super Bowl Sunday 1989. The night before, Stanley Wilson's teammates found him high on cocaine, his third such relapse.
Reporters can also be sentimental. Like everyone else, we see what we want to see.
"Brandon is a great guy," Bennett said. "I think [his reaction to Meriweather] was a good thing for him because we constantly try to grow as we get older. We're just like trees. They never stop growing. You can't see how much growth they have sometimes, but they're always growing.
"[Brandon] got a little sunshine on his leaves [Monday], so that was good for him."
It was good for those who believe in him too.
Walking away from a verbal clash with Brandon Meriweather is the latest example of Brandon Marshall's growth.