Given that it’s National Mental Health Awareness Month, this op-ed written by none other than Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall not only sheds a whole new light on the man, but also provides insight into deep issues that go way beyond concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
It’s a social issue, wrapped in a sports phenomena, and embedded in an individual’s humanity.
Marshall’s piece has not only given me new respect for this man, I am grateful for his insight into what is happening out there in the real world.
As a society, we have to look more deeply into the issues that result in tragedies like that of Junior Seau. His death is only the tip of an iceberg, but we’ve got to have the will and the understanding to make it a wakeup call to bear down, to allocate resources and to bring this issue to the social forefront.
It’s not about just one man, nor is it about a game. It’s about gaining an understanding into the human brain and what we can do to keep these situations from occurring.
But we’re just starting. In fact, the contest hasn’t even begun, nor has the National Anthem been sung. We’re warming up and there’s four quarters ahead of us.
Do we have the will to win?
Though there are many who will continue to suffer because they don’t have the time to wait, we have to persevere and work to overcome this social injustice and lack of understanding.
In the meantime, it’s pieces like Marshall’s that will help us get there. Take a read here or below. You, too, should have a better understanding when you reach the end.
Let’s use Junior Seau tragedy as opportunity to learn
Special to the Sun-Times
‘Wow! Wait? What? Junior Seau was shot? How? Why? They’re saying suicide?’’
Question after question went through my head after I heard the tragic news Wednesday.
Immediately, my heart began to hurt. What I felt was a deep pain, a deep compassion for this situation beyond Junior, his kids, his family, his teammates and his friends.
There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.
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.
In sports, those who show they are hurt or have mental weakness or pain are told: ‘‘You’re not tough. You’re not a man. That’s not how the players before you did it.’’
Someone like Junior Seau.
So your perception of a man or player gets distorted.
Focusing more on this issue, we see more and more professionals doing research on the brain and head trauma in retired athletes. I respect their science and their research on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and how they think it might be associated with depression and dementia, but we can’t recognize CTE until the autopsy.
We can, however, start today by treating the living. Treatments that helped me — but that I think we all can benefit from — are dialectical behavior therapy and metallization therapy.
Looking at the situation with Seau and other cases with retired athletes, I think our focus should be more on why the transition seems to be so hard after football.
As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them — spouses, kids, family, religion and friends — revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.
When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating. The blueprint I am creating for myself will help not only other athletes, it will help suffering people all over.
We must break the cycle, and that starts with prayer and by seeking help. By understanding the pain,
we can replace the hurt
Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver for the Bears.
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