Fight for His Life: How Brandon Marshall Reshaped his Path

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” -Dylan Thomas

Rock bottom is a shark in the water. It does not matter who you are, where you live or what you believe in, mental illness can be waiting for you. Words cannot describe the feeling of rock bottom. The feeling that life has you in a corner and you- Just. Cannot. Take. It. It’s a weight that is carried in every step, every breath, and every glance. Every morning, you wake wondering if today will be your last day, contemplating it because you are paralyzed in your bed by the weight of sickness. There are dozens of ways in which people cope: turning to drugs or violence either against themselves or others. However, it is those that identify the weight they are carrying and seek help that should be made examples of. Let’s talk about heroes.

Reading a short blurb on Jets’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s life and many could be discomforted with the idea of calling him a hero. His checkered history may take some aback, as it did me when I first opened the book on him, but it’s his battle against his demons that people must learn to respect and even admire.

“Lately, death seems near…”

“I’m 27 years old and if that day came soon it’d be marked as a tragedy — not because I’m Brandon Marshall, pro football player, but because I wasted an opportunity to be a shining light on this world, and I spent my time here blowing out flames.” These are Marshall’s words as written in therapy years ago. The wide receiver had just finished his first season in Miami and in the summer of 2011, he held a new conference to announce he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by incredibly unstable emotions, impulsive, reckless behavior and can result in random psychotic episodes. BPD has a ripple affect on people suffering from it, causing depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. BPD is incredibly hard to treat because of how sweeping its symptoms are and how hard it is to pinpoint what those impacted are actually dealing with.

Marshall had been dealing with BPD his whole life and it manifested itself in public and destructive ways over the course of his adult life. Even as a student athlete at the University of Central Florida, Marshall got into trouble with the law when he got caught up in accusations of assault. That violence did not stay in college. On New Years Day, Brandon Marshall was allegedly involved in an altercation at a nightclub he was at with his teammates of the time, Javon Walker and Darrent Williams. Later that night, as they were leaving the club, there was retaliation in which the trio were sprayed with gunfire. While Marshall and Walker were able to walk away, Darrent Williams was struck in the neck, dying from his wounds. Months later, Marshall was arrested after his girlfriend of the time reported a domestic violence incident. The charges were eventually dismissed after Brandon Marshall agreed to some uniform anger management classes. A band-aid on a broken body.

In October of that year, Marshall was cited for driving under the influence of alcohol, which resulted in probation and community service. The young star was establishing a pattern of reckless behavior, but many in the world just labeled him as a miscreant, failing to see that there was a problem there. Not even Marshall knew.

Over the following years, Marshall got into trouble with the law multiple times, often for violent outbursts. His series of episodes came to a tipping point in spring of 2011 when Marshall’s wife Michi wielded a knife in self-defense and ended up stabbing her husband in the stomach.

That was rock bottom for Marshall.

It didn’t matter that the 27-year-old Pro Bowler had just finished his fourth consecutive 1000-yard receiving season. It didn’t matter that he had signed a four-year deal with the Dolphins worth almost 50 million dollars a few months prior. Mental illness has no regard for a person’s status and no amount of money can make it disappear. It was not until Marshall had his wife, the woman he pledged love and allegiance to, feeling so fearful for her life, that she had to stab him with a kitchen blade.

“Lately, death seems near…”

“I’m 27 years old and if that day came soon it’d be marked as a tragedy — not because I’m Brandon Marshall, pro football player, but because I wasted an opportunity to be a shining light on this world, and I spent my time here blowing out flames.”

It finally clicked for him. He realized there was something that was not right and decided to get help. He no longer wanted to endanger the people he loved. He no longer wanted to endanger himself. After being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Marshall made a great effort in seeking treatment. He regularly attended therapy from that moment on. He made it his mission to be vigilant in fighting this darkness that had loomed over him for almost three decades.

A year later, Marshall was traded to the Chicago Bears, reunited with his old quarterback from Denver, Jay Cutler. Marshall went onto enjoy the most prolific season of his career to that point, posting 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns. Marshall would remain in Chicago for another two seasons before the Chicago coaching staff fell apart and the team lost 12 games in 2014. Marshall was traded in the offseason to the New York Jets.

In the summer of 2015, Marshall worked tirelessly with his starting quarterback of the time, Geno Smith. He even moved in with the young signal caller in order to establish a rapport and provide some leadership and guidance for the beleaguered quarterback…

Of course, guidance was not a new thing to Brandon Marshall. Years prior, Marshall got in touch with a former Dolphins’ teammate, Davone Bess. Bess, who had a promising start to his career, spiraled out of control when his life just weighed too much for his shoulders. Bess started using drugs and getting into trouble with the police. His promising career dissipated. Marshall intervened in Bess’ downfall. He went to his old teammate and, more importantly his friend, told him that he is not alone in the world. Many people deal with the struggles that Bess had, but Bess was blessed with the resources to better himself. Marshall talked Bess into seeking help, as he did. Bess is not on an NFL team right now, but he has readjusted his life to live more happily than he did years back. Marshall was able to use his experience with a similar pain to guide a friend and we wouldn’t stop there.

Project 375 is Brandon Marshall’s effort to help the millions of Americans who suffer from various mental illnesses. There is a national stigma about mental health; that being depressed or otherwise is a sign of weakness. That asking for help is weakness. Project 375 wants to reinforce that that is not the case. It demonstrates that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and it is so important to seek help when people even have an inkling that life is beginning to weigh too much for them. Marshall was likely dealing with BPD his whole life, but the reality is that the stigmatized nature of mental illness, especially in less fortunate parts of the country, does not allow for proper diagnosis and treatment. Marshall knows his life could have gone differently if he was empowered to fight the darkness from a young age, have people to stand beside him and importantly, have heroes to look to.

Marshall is fighting for those whose voices have been misunderstood for so long. He wants to shed light on their struggle and use that light to chase out the darkness that each person has been fighting on their own for such a long time. At this stage in his career, Marshall is a hero. At least he is to me.

I can look at his life and the reprehensible actions that he’s perpetrated and recognize the malevolence of them. However, looking beyond them as seeing the pain Marshall experienced and how he has fought his whole life with himself, I see someone who needed help. Marshall found that help. He recognized that he was sick and sought to better himself. Once feeling more and more comfortable with himself, he turned his efforts to helping others on a massive scale. As someone who has read too many suicide notes and has had my moments of feeling life weighing on me, it is empowering to see someone like Marshall who has so greatly overcome his struggles. It is a reminder that no matter how bad it gets, there is always someone going through something similar and that the trials and tribulations of life can be overcome. Asking for help is not a weakness, but strength because it shows determination in getting better. Marshall’s seeking of betterment has not only helped him, but has empowered millions. His struggle is unique and in its individuality and the massive level he has overcome it, he is a hero to me and a champion of mental health awareness.