Professional athletes are often derided for being paid enormous amounts of money to play a game that has very little consequence after the final buzzer. After all, sports are primarily entertainment, and the athletes who play them entertainers. However, there are some issues, such as mental health, that transcend any game.
No one knows this better than Brandon Marshall, the 30-year-old star wide receiver for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. Marshall struggled with undiagnosed mental issues his entire life and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011. Rather than shy away from his new image, Marshall has embraced his status as the face of mental health advocacy in the NFL.
Facing his problems
Prior to 2011, Marshall led a life too common with newcomers to the NFL. Dangerously talented on the football field but in trouble with the law off of it, Marshall was the subject of several 911 calls made by his wife and strangers between 2007 and 2009. The 6’2″, 230-pound receiver was written off by many teams as too much hassle and traded several times, from Denver to Miami, then from Miami to Chicago.
Marshall landed in the Windy City for the 2012 season, one year after he became just the third public figure in history to announce that he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
“I’m making myself vulnerable, and I want it to be clear that this is the opposite of damage control,” Marshall told ESPN in 2011 of his decision not to keep the information private. “Someone will learn from this story.”
Inside the NFL, many of Marshall’s fellow athletes did. After Marshall’s press conference, there have been three other football players who have admitted troubles with mental issues such as social anxiety and depression, including one player who also has borderline personality disorder.
In his capacity as a professional athlete, Marshall has continued to advocate for increased awareness of mental health issues. In a game during the 2013-14 season, Marshall forewent the normal team colors of blue and orange in favor of a pair of lime-green cleats – the official color of mental health awareness. Because the colors were not part of his official uniform, the NFL fined Marshal $10,500.
“Football is my platform not my purpose,” Marshall responded on Twitter. “This fine is nothing compared to the conversation started [and] awareness raised.”
Moving beyond football
Since his announcement in 2011, Marshall has continued to leverage his status as a professional athlete to start conversations about mental health issues. Two organizations, the Brandon Marshall Foundation and Project Borderline, work not only to increase awareness about borderline personality disorder and other conditions, but also to connect people in need of help with qualified professionals and effective treatments.
Marshall’s Project Borderline has also conducted public events, such as the May 31 Brandon Marshall Mental Health Awareness Ride that sent almost 200 motorcyclists on a 60-mile route through the suburbs of Illinois to get people talking about mental illness, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We want to make [mental health} an everyday topic at our dinner tables and an everyday conversation in government, and we’re going to do this until that happens,” Marshall told Yahoo Sports.
The wide receiver is currently working out with his team in the offseason as they prepare for their season opener September 7 at home against the Buffalo Bills. At 30 years old, Marshall has played professional football more years than he has left, but he knows that the true battle to help those with mental illness will never stop.