Fighting Silver and Black Demons: A Message to Barrett Robbins

Justin SmithCorrespondent IJune 16, 2009

OAKLAND, CA  - SEPTEMBER 28:  Center Barrett Robbins #63 of the Oakland Raiders runs to block during a game against the San Diego Chargers on September 28, 2003 at Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

On the Friday night before Super-Bowl XXXVII, the Oakland Raiders' all-Pro center and catalyst to the offense simply disappeared.

There was absolutely no explanation, and team members and staff were searching in a panic for the man who held the key to protection schemes and blocking assignments. Whispers had been swirling for some time that there might be something wrong with Robbins—that mentally, he wasn't always all there.

He had been hospitalized once in college and once early in his pro career for what physicians called "psychotic episodes," but those close to him knew there was something clinically wrong.

His actions during the weekend of Super Bowl XXXVII proved just that.

He disappeared from the team hotel, took off to Tijuana, and drank his face off while embroiled in bipolar mania. When he finally returned, he was so out of sorts that the team wanted nothing to do with him. He was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time, hospitalized on Super Bowl Sunday, and his career with the Raiders was effectively over.

The sad truth is this:

Robbins was a young man with serious problems that needed to be addressed in a far more effective way than they had been up to that point. Yet, because of the timing and publicity of this incident, the fact that was missed.

It came to light for the first time during this event that Robbins was bipolar; however, the drinking binge and foray in Tijuana was the news—not his mental disorder.

People cracked jokes. People moved on. It would be some time before his problems would come to a breaking point and threaten his life.

Robbins tried to return to the team but was cut after failing a physical. He had always been one of the league's strongest and most forceful players; but recurring knee injuries, troubles with performance-enhancing drugs, and mental afflictions that he could not handle effectively led him to fall out of the NFL.

His battles with drugs and alcohol simply exacerbated his fragile capacities.

A few years went by, with Robbins being little more than an unfortunate punch-line to some bad Super Bowl jokes and an afterthought as Super Bowl trivia.

He resurfaced in early 2005. Only at this point, coupled with his strange behaviour at the Super Bowl and testimonials that he had issues, could the public finally see how troubled Robbins really was and get to the root of the matter: mental illness and substance abuse.

After revelations that Robbins suffered from alcoholism to go along with his mental disorders, we were in the perfect position to witness something go terribly wrong. 

Enter Miami Beach.

Robbins was confronted by authorities investigating a burglary in a Miami, FL commercial facility that housed a pub, jewelery store, and gym. He was holed up in the ladies room of the pub after breaking in and refusing to leave. When confronted, Robbins apparently flew into a rage and began struggling with the detective.

Testimony has stated, disturbingly, that Robbins "growled, snarled, and was heard laughing throughout the attack." Robbins beat an officer to the floor, picked up another detective and slammed him into the wall, then rammed another detective face-first into the wall.

Bear in mind Robbins was roughly 6'4", 380 pounds at this point, and with his obvious rage and confusion was a very, very dangerous man. One of the detectives shot Robbins twice in the chest. Robbins staggered, growled, and slapped the gun away from the detective, but was finally subdued with no further violence.

Robbins was charged with attempted felony murder, two felony counts of attempting to deprive an officer of their weapon, two felony counts of resisting an officer with violence, and misdemeanour trespassing. He was also hospitalized in critical condition with the two gunshot wounds.

It was safe to say the former Pro-Bowler had fallen a long way since his playing days, but he had help from numerous demons dragging him down.

Recently, Robbins has spoken about the Super Bowl incident for the first time.

He seems to be medicated and cogent, and he is in rehab for his addictions. He is very contrite, blaming himself for the Raiders' loss. Nobody can say what the outcome would've been if Robbins had've played, but it's safe to say that Gruden still would've had Callahan's number.

This is a good example of how lack of information about mental illness and the stigmatization that goes along with it can color perception.

When people discuss Barrett Robbins, they talk about him losing his mind at the Super Bowl, but rarely is it discussed that he was diagnosed with an actual mental illness. The public perception was another spoiled athlete who couldn't handle the pressure and let his team down.

As we now know, that was not the case.

Robbins' wife looks at the Super Bowl as a blessing in disguise, as it was the first time Barrett was ever diagnosed properly as bipolar. She stated that it helped to explain some of his behaviour over the years, such as his incident in college and early in his career.

However, Robbins still didn't seek treatment or help until he hit rock bottom, as is the case with most people. Once he hit rock bottom, however, he knew he needed help, and knew that he could keep a handle on his illness if he was able to overcome his alcohol addiction.

Robbins has since looked back on some of the incidents which have colored his last five to seven years with regret and disappointment—but mostly with motivation.

He still potentially faces 30 years in prison, but he sounds motivated, ready, and willing to work hard to clean himself up. He realizes that he will always have mental issues, but that medication and clean living can help curtail the symptoms.

Robbins seems somewhat at peace—clear eyed, sober, and willing to work harder than he ever has before. It's very clear from his words, his apologies, and his brutal honesty that Barrett Robbins wants his life back.

We hope you get it, Barrett.