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Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker has said that he’s “accountable” for his previous alleged violent actions against his ex-wife and that others shouldn’t be “ashamed” about facing issues concerning their mental health.
Mr Walker, a former college and professional football player, is speaking about his battles with mental illness as he fights for the Republican Senate nomination, which has prompted some GOP leaders and voters to grow concerned.
He told Axios on Monday that he’s “better now than 99 per cent of the people in America ... Just like I broke my leg – I put the cast on. It healed”.
Mr Walker spoke generally about the allegations of violence against him, didn’t mention specifics, and said he has never broken the law.
About the relationship with his ex-wife Cindy Grossman, he said: “I’m always accountable to whatever I’ve ever done. And that’s what I tell people: I’m accountable to it.”
“People can’t just make up and add on and say other things that’s not the truth,” he added. “They want me to address things that they made up.”
A spokesperson told Axios that Mr Walker was speaking about allegations of threatening behaviour by two other women in 2002 and 2012 and that Mr Walker wasn’t referring to his relationship with his ex-wife.
In 2008, Ms Grossman spoke about her experiences of threats and possible choking in interviews alongside Mr Walker with ABC News and CNN. Mr Walker told Axios that today, he sees himself as being “best friends” with Ms Grossman.
Mr Walker also wrote a book in 2008, sharing his experience of disassociative identity disorder, which included violent thoughts about harming himself as well as others. He also wrote about infidelity.
Since then, he’s been advocating for awareness of mental health issues in the military.
He said that if he’s elected, he’ll push for more resources for mental health initiatives in the military, healthcare, and law enforcement.
“Most of the things I’ve done after my struggles have shown people that you can get knocked down and you can get up,” he said. “And that’s what I want people to realize.”
“Don’t be ashamed to address your issues,” he added. “For a man, it’s very tough. For an African American man, it’s even harder. But you know, I want people to see that. And that’s one of the major reasons I decided to run.”
As Mr Walker started his campaign, some Republicans have been concerned about the political liability his candidacy might pose. Reports during the last year revealed that Ms Grossman got a protective order against Mr Walker in 2005 following violent threats.
But Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, one of Mr Walker’s opponents in the Republican primary, has said that the domestic violence allegations should disqualify Mr Walker from the race.
Mr Black said Mr Walker shouldn’t be a candidate, but instead “help other people that have the same problems”.
“No subject, I believe, is off-limits,” Georgia Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson told Axios about politics in the post-Trump era. “But, candidates do run a risk of it backfiring if they decide to attack Herschel Walker on this issue.”
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose mother was bipolar, told the outlet that Mr Walker’s choice to speak publicly about his past will “defeat any effort to smear him ... This is not going to be a situation where it can be whispered about, and there’s this secret that will blow up in late October”.
Former Democratic Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy, an advocate for people with addiction, bipolar, and mental health issues, told Axios that it’s “unusual” and “courageous” for a candidate to speak about these matters.
But he added that “there’s no blanket immunity from being responsible if you have one of these illnesses,” especially when it comes to violent behaviour.
“If Herschel Walker wants to bring that story to the public, I’m all for it. I do not think he should be condemned for it, because in a very real way that life he’s living today is very redeeming for those who may share a lot of the same story of abuse, both of themselves and their abusing others,” Mr Kennedy said.