On the weekend that marked the crowning achievement of his pro football career, Brian Dawkins paused to take stock of the low points, the moments that, he said, nearly brought him to suicide.
Dawkins, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety, delivered a powerful message about his battle with depression Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. “There’s hope. There is something on the other side of this,” he told the crowd in an emotional 22-minute speech. “Don’t get caught up where you are. Don’t stay where you are. Keep moving. Keep pushing through.”
At times, Dawkins said, he was in such a difficult place that he considered the way in which to kill himself so that his family could still collect his life insurance. As a new husband, father and NFL player, he struggled with the pressure of managing all three roles. He often drank and lashed out in anger, he said. It’s a story he had started telling in the days before his induction.
“Overall, I didn’t have any outlets, and so I began to drink a little more than I needed to, and that quickly spiraled down into depression. I went through a real dark, deep depression. Alcohol was a tremendous crutch,” he told NBC Philadelphia last week. “There were times I didn’t even want to be around my family, didn’t want to be around my son.
“I just wanted to be in a dark room by myself with nobody,” he said. “My faith back then wasn’t that strong, so I listened to the other voice in my head, and that’s where suicidal thoughts came in, and then actually planning out how I would go about it in such a way that [my wife] Connie and my son would get the money from my insurance policy.”
Dawkins is one of a number of athletes and former athletes who have gone public with their struggles with depression in recent years. Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale said in February that he had considered suicide and opened up about the physical, mental and sexual abuse he had experienced as a child. “Some days, you can talk yourself out of it. Some days, you can’t. Some days, it just feels impossible,” he told the Los Angeles Times last winter. “This is who I am. I am as depressed as I am black.”
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps called on the U.S. Olympic Committee to do more to help athletes this spring, saying that, because of depression, he “straight up wanted to die.” The NBA’s Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan opened up about their struggles, while wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was one of the first mental health advocates among athletes, has called raising awareness “the civil rights issue of our era.”
Dawkins, a hard-hitting safety over 16 NFL seasons spent mostly with the Eagles, was a second-round pick (61st overall) by the Eagles out of Clemson in 1996 and spent the last three years of his career with the Broncos.
“Football was what I did, but it’s not who I am. It did not define me,” Dawkins, who turns 45 next month, said in Canton. “I repeat the same things that Brian Urlacher [who also was inducted into the Hall on Saturday] said. I am a blessed man of God. And the Lord has blessed me to do the things that I do. And so nothing just happens in my life. The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain. Pain has pushed me to levels unknown. For me at the time, all I knew was that was pain, but on the other side of it, all of a sudden, I became better in an area. So when we go through those situations in our lives, pain helps you develop those things that [are] going to take you to the next level of whatever it is the Lord has for you. Believe that. I’m a living testimony of that. See there’s a purpose for my pain. There’s a purpose for my pain. …”
“But what that pain did for me, it increased my faith exponentially. I have grown leaps and bounds because of the things that I’ve gone through, and that’s one of those things I went through. When I say ‘went through,’ that means I came [out] on the other side of it. So for those who are going through it right now, there’s hope. You do have hope.”
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