Eagles' Brandon Brooks made sure mental health was huge part of his legacy

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Brandon Brooks made sure his legacy went far beyond the football field originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Brandon Brooks didn’t intend to become a spokesman for mental health issues.

He was just trying to be honest and share his story. The rest came naturally.

And he's grateful that it did.

A huge part of Brooks’ legacy is his transparency with mental health, dating back to 2016, when his anxiety – caused by what he called “an unhealthy obsession with the game” – forced him to miss games against the Packers and Washington.

Three days after the Washington game, he stood at his locker and opened up about his condition without really knowing how anybody would react.

As it turned out, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and Brooks began hearing from athletes and non-athletes about how his decision to discuss his struggles in a public forum had inspired them to seek help.

So when looking at Brooks’ legacy as he steps away from the NFL after 10 seasons, three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship, it’s fair to say that the impact he made off the field was just as important as the impact he made on it.

“Back in ’16, I don’t know how to even describe it, after the second time it happened, I think we realized what it was and I got diagnosed and stuff like that, you go one of two ways,” Brooks recalled.

“Do you not say anything? Do you just say it and call it a day? How do you do that? You have some people that were like, ‘Yeah, man, tell your truth,’ and you had some people who said, ‘Nah, you probably shouldn’t do that, just leave it alone.’

“At the time there weren’t a whole lot of athletes speaking on that, and for me, I always wanted to be truthful and upfront about what I was going through. So that was kind of how it started and really what happened.”

Brooks’ remarks at his locker at the NovaCare Complex that day in December 2016 were among the first by an active player of Brooks’ stature regarding his personal struggles with mental health, and in the five years since it’s a subject that’s come out of the shadows more and more.

It’s impossible to measure how much Brooks has had to do with that, but it was certainly a brave move going public and undoubtedly led to numerous others to get the help they needed.

“Beyond his on-field accomplishments, I am most proud of the way Brandon represents our organization with exemplary class,” Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said in a statement. “He is one of the most thoughtful and bravest athletes I have ever been around.

“Brandon's willingness to openly discuss his own struggles with anxiety has served as an inspiration to so many and helped open the door for future conversations among athletes and role models everywhere. His impact in that area is immeasurable.”

In the years since 2016, numerous other high-profile athletes – Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps, Ally Raisman, DeMar DeRozan among others - have stepped forward and shared their own stories.

Much of the stigma has been removed from the conversation about mental health, but when Brooks spoke five years ago we hadn’t gotten to that point.

“I didn’t know how it was going to be taken,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I just wanted to get my truth out there because I do understand that people go through it and some people are ashamed to speak on it, some people are ashamed to get help. I just wanted to voice my story hoping that people who are in this situation just reach out, they shouldn’t be embarrassed, they shouldn’t be ashamed, it’s OK to get help, it’s OK to talk to people about it.

“In ‘17, ‘18, going forward with other athletes, I love to see it. People go through things at this level. You push yourself to be the best and there’s so much you sacrifice and give to your sport that you know sometimes you go through things or you’re fighting inner demons from childhood or past experiences that come out and for me it was just saying, ‘It’s OK.’

“And I’m happy that a ton of athletes and people are coming out to let everybody else know it’s OK too that they go through it just like I go through it, just like other people go through it. So I love the direction it’s going and I’m glad it’s an open thing, a public thing. People feel like they have a platform and a voice to speak on it.”

In his retirement announcement Wednesday, Brooks spoke at length about his relationship with long-time Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and the impact he had on his career and his life.

Stoutland spoke later Wednesday about the impact Brooks’ transparency and honesty with anxiety had in the Eagles’ locker room.

“Whenever a family member is in trouble you do whatever you have to do to help,” Stoutland said. “This was no different. If anything, we became closer as a group. And the respect he earned from his teammates due to his honesty grew.

“He has been dealt adversity time and time again. From anxiety to injuries. It can break a person. But it didn’t break him, it made him stronger. It’s a lesson to everyone in that room, that building, the city.”

Brooks, 32, will never know how many people he’s helped just by sharing his story. But he also made it clear that his own battle is ongoing. It’s something that will never just go away.

It has always been part of me, it will always be a part of me,” he said. “It will always be something that I deal with.

“I just want to be known as a person who is transparent, a person who just wanted to really just help others by sharing my story. It will always be a part of my story and always just try to be truthful and transparent about it.”

 

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