I can remember the day as if it were almost yesterday. I was engaging in my daily routine of getting prepared for work while watching First Take on ESPN. On this particular episode in late 2010, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith welcomed NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall to their panel. As he began to discuss his reasons for being on the show, I had a personal “Ah-ha!!”moment – I knew exactly in which direction I wanted to guide my career in mental health (I’ll discuss later…)
Brandon played college football in the early 2000s at the University of Central Florida and was drafted into the NFL by the Denver Broncos in 2006. While enjoying early success in Denver, he was mysteriously traded to the Miami Dolphins in April 2010. During his time in Miami, Brandon continued enjoying success on the field, as he was named the MVP of the 2012 Pro Bowl. Following this great athletic achievements however, Brandon was again traded to another team in 2012 - this time the Chicago Bears. By this point of his career, Brandon had amassed FIVE consecutive seasons of 1,000+ yards.
At first glance, one might ask, “Why did this great athlete continue to be traded to different teams year after year?” To answer this question, let’s look at his off-the-field statistics:
October 2004: Arrested at a Denny’s restaurant in Orlando, Fla., on charges of assault on a police officer. The charges were dismissed.
June 2006: Police report filed alleging physical abuse. No arrests or charges were made.
January 2007: Indicated as an instigator of an altercation at a Denver nightclub that eventually led to the death of one of his Broncos teammates. No charges filed.
March 2007: In Atlanta, he was accused of domestic violence and physical assault. No charges were filed.
March 2007: Brandon was arrested in a Denver suburb on suspicion of domestic violence. He completed anger management counseling and the charges were dropped two months later.
June 2007: According to the Denver Post, Brandon was accused of damaging an automobile that his former fiancé was a passenger in, in addition to being accused of physical assault. No charges were filed.
June 2007: According to the Denver Post, he was again accused of assault and domestic abuse in Atlanta. No charges were filed.
October 2007: Arrested in Denver and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. He was pulled over driving the wrong way on a one-way street hours after a game. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while ability-impaired and was sentenced to one year of probation and 24 hours of community service.
March 2008: Arrested on charges of misdemeanor battery in Atlanta after a dispute with his former fiancé. Found not guilty in August 2009.
August 2008: NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell suspended Brandon for three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension was reduced to one regular-season game and a fine of an additional game check.
March 2009: Arrested in Atlanta on disorderly conduct charges after allegedly being involved in a dispute with his new fiancé (current wife). Charges were dropped the next day.
April 2011: Taken to Broward General Medical Center after his wife stabbed him in the abdomen in “self-defense.”
March 2012: Accused by a 24-year-old woman of punching her in the eye, leaving a black eye, in an altercation outside a club in New York. Brandon claims that he and his wife were victims in the altercation.
I listed twelve different incidents of violence that Brandon was directly involved in within an 8-year span. Be mindful that I left off several additional incidents that he was also involved in. Two distinct themes can be derived from this list – domestic violence and no real consequences. Behavior is both innate and learned, as we are all products of the environments in which we live and the relationships that we cultivate.
While Brandon’s behavior is not condoned on any level, it is very indicative of a much deeper cognitive & emotional issue. In the clinical world, we would take this case study and identify themes in his pathology. In layman’s terms, we would try to figure out exactly what is going on with him based on his behavioral patterns. Here we have a 30 year-old, multi-millionaire athlete that has been given every opportunity to achieve his professional dreams who, on paper, appears to have a major issue with controlling his anger and quickly becomes violent with others. As he continued to receive the proverbial “slap on the wrist”, however, Brandon realized that he had an uncontrollable problem.
Brandon began to seek advice and consultation from various mental health practitioners. It was not until late 2010 – early 2011 that Brandon began to tell his true story. Brandon was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition (DSM-IV), BPD is defined as a continuous pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects (display of emotions), and marked by impulsivity. What this essentially means is that Brandon experiences difficulty in managing the shifts in his relationships, thoughts, and emotions. An excerpt from the DSM-IV reads:
Individuals with BPD make frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. The perception of impending separation or rejection can lead to profound changes in self-image, affect, cognition, and behavior…Individuals with BPD have a pattern of unstable and intense relationships. They may idealize potential lovers at the first or second meeting, demand to spend a lot of time together…However, they may switch quickly from idealizing other people to devaluing them, feeling that the other person does not care enough, does not give enough, is not “there” enough.
While this may be difficult to understand at first glance, it begins to put Brandon’s story into perspective. If we lightly apply this description to the timetable that I listed at the beginning, we can clearly see a pattern of behavior that vacillates between being extremely happy in his relationship(s) to causing great harm to the [women] that he claims to love. If we think about our own romantic relationships, we can all agree that there are times when our significant other may push us to the point of completely spazzing out. The self-calming mechanism that many of us possess is not present within individuals that have BPD. What eventually came to light was that Brandon is a young, talented, very wealthy, and highly-admired individual that has never had the emotional regulation to manage it all.
Individuals with BPD are somewhat limited in the options for treatment. While there are not any regulated prescription medications used to directly treat the disorder, psychotherapy (particularly group therapy) can greatly assist in identifying and alleviating many of the presenting symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) provides a plethora of information regarding the treatment of BPD.
Brandon has taken major steps since 2012 to address his issues with BPD. In addition, he has become one of the leading advocates of mental & behavioral health by using his platform as a professional athlete and part-time broadcaster to bring awareness to the NFL community. In fact, his interview on First Take inspired me personally to focus my work on individuals who present with various disorders and associated symptoms working in intense, high-stakes environments. I applaud Brandon for not allowing himself to be a victim of his past and for having the courage to take the necessary steps to improve the overall wellness of his family and his personal life, while also preserving his career. His story, indirectly, aids in my journey of addressing the stigmata associated with minority mental health.
*Sources: The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The National Institute of Mental Health
**Editor's Note: The story mentioned in this post is solely intended to shine a light on an individual's journey in understanding the mental/behavioral issues that he has faced over several years. It is not intended to criminalize this individual, nor to victimize anyone involved in any of the alleged incidents listed above.