Walk on the Wild Side: Brandon Marshall


I’m rooting for Brandon Marshall. If you believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles, you should, too. Photo by Geoffrey Beall.

Once in a while I like to write about something tangentially related to the game. Something not about analysis of skill, technique, or strategy. Today’s topic is one of those times. Today’s topic involves Brandon Marshall.

There was a lot of talk when the Dolphins traded Marshall to the Bears for two, third-round pick – less than what they got when they originally acquired him from the Broncos – that his problems are not worth his talents. That he’s a troublemaker. A ticking time bomb.

Marshall was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder last year. The definition that the National Institute of Health provides is unsettling to the average person:

A serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self-identity. Originally thought to be at the “borderline” of psychosis, people with BPD suffer from a disorder of emotion regulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is more common, affecting 2 percent of adults, mostly young women.

While I’m no mental health expert, I’ve known people diagnosed with BPD and  I have seen them live fulfilling lives with the help of therapy and pharmaceuticals. I know Marshall has been in therapy since he entered the league in 2004 and he was still running afoul of the law. I realize that there’s reasonable speculation that the bullet that killed former teammate Darrent Williams was intended for Marshall due to his behavior that night. And even after the trade, news broke that Marshall allegedly punched a woman in a  New York City nightclub in March.

I believe Marshall is telling the truth about what happened this spring. I think that because he’s been accountable about his other off-field issues. I believe he’s learned a lot about himself through therapy and it’s evident with what he wrote about Junior Seau’s life and death as a reflection of the prevalent culture when it comes to raising boys. It is worth sharing:

As I began to meditate more on Junior’s death, I began to think about this vicious cycle our world is in. The word ‘‘validate’’ started to run through my mind.

The cycle starts when we are young boys and girls. Let me illustrate it for you:

Li’l Johnny is outside playing and falls. His dad tells him to get up and be strong, to stop crying because men don’t cry.

So even from the age of 2,
our belief system begins to form this picture. We are teaching our boys not to show weakness or share any feelings or emotions, other than to be strong and tough.

Is that ‘‘validating’’?

What do we do when Li’l Susie falls? We say: ‘‘It’s OK. I’m here. Let me pick you up.’’

That’s very validating, and it’s teaching our girls that expressing emotions is OK.

We wonder why it’s so hard to bridge the communication gap between men and women.

This presented itself clearly when I was going through group therapy and was the only man in my groups. Better yet, I was there for three months, and there was only one other guy in the program.

In therapy, I learned how to express my emotions and talk about my problems, then apply it to my real life. I had to work through my entire belief system, train myself how to think, not what to think, and let go of the things that had me in bondage.

I had to bridge the gap. It wasn’t going to do it on its own. It’s a cycle.

Can you imagine how this presents itself even more so in football players?

Junior Seau, Kenny McKinley, Dave Duerson, Brandon Marshall, etc. I am the only one in that group who is living because I got help before it was too late.

The fact that Marshall realizes that he’s starting from scratch to re-learn how to look at the world and how to react to it is encouraging. I would be willing to bet that those initial years of mandatory therapy were met with a lot of resistance. Its hard for some men to realize that the working definition of manhood most of us learned is like a table with three legs. If you can’t have that fourth leg, you’ll never be a stable person for those around you – no matter how sturdy the rest of that table looks.

I know firsthand. While I don’t have a personality disorder or a borderline personality disorder and I have never needed pharmaceuticals to aid me, I have sought the benefit of talk therapy in my young adulthood. I had to learn how to express my emotions due to coping behaviors I developed as a child in what I would best describe as some emotionally difficult situations. Once an adult, it didn’t take long to realize that I had to take responsibility for my life if I wanted to learn how to have healthy relationships with people close to me.

So I understand what Marshall means about learning to retrain his thoughts and his reactions to his thoughts. I had to do the same. It wasn’t an easy learning process. But once I did learn life felt more natural. It surely felt a lot better than what I had constructed to survive in a situation that no longer was a part of my life. I succeeded in building a strong, fourth leg to my table.

Marshall appears indebted to the process of building a strong, fourth leg for himself. A real man or woman confronts his or her problems and makes the effort to address them with this kind of honesty and humility. I think he’s giving it an honest effort and from that perspective I’m rooting for him.

A great book that discusses our culture’s approach to raising boys that I recommend to everyone is called “Raising Boys.”

Categories: Walk on the Wild Side

2 comments

  1. Thanks for going this route, good read. I’m a new father who is also doing a lot of work on himself. Keep up the great work you do

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