Brandon Marshall sat in a room with attorneys, insurance brokers and students. They saw him as one of the NFL's premier football players. Marshall saw himself as one of them.
This was part of his outpatient program in 2011, and the moment he felt compelled to do something more with his borderline personality disorder than overcome it.
He wanted to advocate for mental health.
“What’s interesting was that there are all of these stories, you know,” Marshall said. “Some suicidal, some self-harming themselves, some dealing with substance-abuse issues, and we all got up and went in the parking lot. We went back into our normal lives like everything was OK.
“So, I wondered: how many other people are out there suffering and suffering in silence that can’t get the help they need or don’t even know they’re suffering?”
Marshall felt depressed and isolated. He was unable to connect with family, friends or himself.
With professional help and support from his loved ones, the Chicago Bears wide receiver has proved his worth on the football field. Marshall just signed a three-year contract extension worth $23 million guaranteed on Tuesday. Although, for him, the euphoria from football is akin to how fulfilled and stimulated he feels when working for his foundation, The Brandon Marshall Foundation.
“People can only imagine the feeling of scoring a touchdown or being a part of such a great organization like the Chicago Bears,” Marshall said. “It’s like living in a dream every single day. But the cool thing is, we get that same feeling every time we walk into our small office working on our mission.”
Marshall wears Chicago’s blue and orange, but he sees green. And on October 10, 2013, he wanted everyone else to see green, too.
Marshall was fined $10,500 by the NFL for wearing lime green cleats during a Thursday Night Football game against the New York Giants. He wore them to represent Mental Health Awareness Week.
Seven months later, Marshall is planning a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss how the league can better support mental health. Marshall just wants Goodell to listen and be open to the conversation.
“It’s exciting, you know,” he says, his voice traveling up an octave to prove his excitement. “I think it takes big partnerships like that. We need a few anchor sponsors, or anchor partners, to raise the amount of awareness needed to see the change in our communities and our government and our corporations.
“So, we’re excited about the conversation. Hopefully, we partner on a few things to help our league, our guys, our families, and also the whole United States.”
Listening is the root. Since vocalizing his struggle with borderline personality disorder, Marshall embodies safety for fellow NFL players. Coaches and organizations around the league call Marshall, seeking help for particular players or unique situations. In his words, Marshall has evolved from a patient to a provider.
“My situation wasn’t unique. I think we all go through the same things, whether it’s relationships, whether it’s success or failure or financial issues, the pressure to perform or our children, finding purpose. Those issues are still going to be there, but now I have the skills and tools to cope with those and try to grow every single day.”
On April 25, I wore a lime green long-sleeved shirt from The Brandon Marshall Foundation around campus at Missouri.
A friend of mine waved me over.
“Hey, where do you go?” He asked, subtly and soft enough for only my ears to hear.
“Where do I go?” I responded, unsure what he meant.
I gave him the name of my therapist. The two of us sat there for a while longer. He whispered about his battle with bipolar disorder. I listened, while adding stories of my own journey with depression and anxiety to assure him we were in this together.
And now, I know what Marshall would have told my friend or me and will tell anyone else suffering in silence.
“You know what, I would say that their voice is needed,” Marshall says. “If we want change, people have to be bold and tell their story because it affects all of us. A lot of times we’re afraid to talk about what we’re going through because we think that it’s an isolated incident and that it just hits us or our homes. And that’s not true.
“They will be surprised how much healing will go on in their lives and their situation by just talking about it and standing up for it.”
All quotes were obtained by the writer during a phone conversation with Brandon Marshall. You can follow Megan Armstrong on Twitter at @meganKarmstrong.