Kudos to outspoken mental health advocate and football star Brandon
Marshall for his strong support of breaking the stigma of mental illness.
Brandon Marshall delivers powerful message to owners about mental health
Scott Gleeson , USA TODAY Sports
July 26, 2017
New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall said he originally declined
the invitation to speak about mental health — his biggest off-field passion
— to NFL owners and coaches at their annual meeting in March.
Ultimately, he obliged and it turned into “the most powerful presentation”
Marshall wasn’t alone in that opinion.
“You could’ve heard a pin drop in the room,” Giants owner John Mara told
USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. “The way Brandon was so frank and
direct about his mental health issues in his life resonated with everyone
in the room. He immediately helped humanize players more, which helped
articulate that this business is about more than football or making money.
“Of all the presentations at the owners (meetings), his stood out the most.
In 15 minutes, he raised our consciousness to the reality of an issue.”
Marshall, one of the most prominent professional athletes to publicly
advocate for mental health awareness, shared his account of his own mental
illness and his struggles prior to his diagnosis, which led to a laundry
list of run-ins with the law. That included public altercations with his
wife, Michi, as well as a one-game suspension by the league in 2008 after a
domestic violence arrest.
Most notably, Marshall shared his message — that the sports world and
society need to accept mental illness as a disease — and the steps
necessary to destigmatizing the taboo topic.
“It wasn’t just lip service this time,” Marshall told USA TODAY Sports.
“All the teams’ coaches and owners were there and embraced the
conversation. I said I wasn’t gonna come unless they were ready to really
hear me. It had been a long time coming.”
Marshall, in the twilight of his NFL career and on his fifth NFL team, now
considers football his platform, but mental health awareness his purpose.
He’s been a mental health advocate since being diagnosed with borderline
personality disorder in 2011. He and Michi founded Project 375, an
organization dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health
— by raising awareness and implementing training.
“Man, if you would have asked me eight years ago what does mental health
mean to me, I would have said mental toughness,” Marshall said. “Another
part of my answer would’ve been, ‘masking pain.’ As football players, we
are taught to never show weakness, to never give an opponent an edge. To
open up when something hurts, in our culture, is deviant. But when you
really sit down and think about it, connecting with those emotions is the
Dating back to his playing days in Chicago with the Bears, Marshall said
he’s been meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell on a semi-regular basis —
in a consultant-like role — for the past four years, and that after he
spoke at the owners meetings, Goodell looked back at him “like a proud
“He’s the one who really stood on the table for me to come and present,”
Marshall said. “He knows me, knows what I’m about and how passionate I am
about mental health. And he believes in it, buys into it.”
Since the meetings, Marshall said he’s noticed a ripple effect with several
owners reaching out to him to lend support and to gain insight or
expertise. He’s hoping a trickle-down can take place in the league as a
“It’s been phenomenal,” Marshall said of the response. “What I’ve found is
that when you’re real, people come out of the (woodwork). I remember back
in 2011, when I first left McLean Hospital (in Belmont, Mass). I told
everyone, ‘this is what I’ve been dealing with.’ Then I had a teammate pull
me aside to say, ‘thank you, I suffer from bipolar disorder. You just gave
me the courage to be braver and deal with this.’ I do think, being an NFL
player, whenever you’re able to be vulnerable with what you deal with,
there’s a power to that.”
Mara thinks that Marshall’s words — in just 15 minutes can help change the
narrative around the league, and even further.
*“When you think about it, mental illness affects so many people, so it’d
be wrong to think football players are immune and should push it aside,”
Mara said. “But (mental health) is also something people don’t talk about
in society. So I think Brandon has already been influential, but now the
entire league can take a big step in not promoting looking the other way or
pushing (mental health) away.*
“The NFL is such a visible entity, so simply acknowledging it exists, just
like any other illness, goes a long way.”