On Brandon Marshall, mental illness, and the Bears' win over the Giants | Bleader

On Brandon Marshall, mental illness, and the Bears' win over the Giants

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Brandon Marshall celebrates a second-quarter touchdown last night.
  • Jessica Koscielniak/Sun-Times
  • Brandon Marshall celebrates a second-quarter touchdown last night.
Thanks in good measure to Brandon Marshall, the Bears beat the New York Giants in Soldier Field last night, 27-21, improving their record to 4-2. The mighty Giants slipped to 0-6. Marshall raced around the field in neon green shoes, yanking down nine passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns.

The Giants' winless record, and the struggles of quarterback Eli Manning, has reduced New York writers to sarcasm. "Demonstrating improvement in the sixth game of the season Thursday night, Manning did not throw an interception until the third play of the game," Bill Pennington observed in this morning's NYT. In the team's season opener, as Pennington pointed out, Manning had been intercepted on the initial play from scrimmage.

In the first 11 minutes of last night's game, the Bears caught only two passes, both thrown by Manning. One was returned 48 yards by Tim Jennings for a touchdown. The Giants had possession of the ball for nine of those first 11 minutes, but the Bears and their ball-control defense were up 7-0.

The Giants tied it up, but then Jay Cutler and Marshall got going. Marshall caught both of his TDs in the second quarter.

Marshall, 29, wore the green shoes because it's Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental health isn't a new cause for Marshall. In 2011 he disclosed he'd been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and said he'd help promote research and treatment of that condition. The foundation that grew out of his commitment now focuses more broadly on mental illness. It chose green for Marshall to wear last night because the color is associated with growth and hope, the foundation's CEO said this week.

BPD is characterized by difficulty regulating emotions, harmful impulsivity, impaired reasoning, and disturbed relationships. Suicide attempts are not uncommon. Marshall was a Miami Dolphin in April 2011 when his wife was charged with stabbing him in the abdomen during an altercation. Later he said he'd trapped her in a closet to keep her from leaving. After three months of neurological and psychological testing, he went public with his diagnosis. "I have a dream home, two nice cars, three beautiful dogs, but I haven't enjoyed one part of it," he told reporters at a news conference. "And it was hard to understand why."

Last year Marshall told a reporter for Yahoo! Sports that he felt supported by his Bears teammates and was managing his symptoms without meds. He talked about the importance of raising awareness about mental health problems. He said that although one of five people have "some sort of mental disorder", mental illness was "still a taboo topic in our homes, our schools, and our communities." He added, "We want to make it an everyday topic at our dinner tables and an everyday conversation in government."

The NFL has indicated it will fine Marshall for violating its policy on uniforms. Players are allowed to wear pink shoes or gloves throughout October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because that deviation from uniforms has been approved by the league. Maybe the NFL thinks it must penalize Marshall's green-cleat advocacy for fear of where it could lead: Matt Forte might don fiery red shoes to heighten awareness of global warming, or Cutler could wear yellow cleats to call attention to his favorite fruit, the lemon.

Rules are rules, and normally I'd agree with the fine—but in this case I think the league should let Marshall slide. Shortly before he disclosed his diagnosis in 2011, Marsha Linehan, a noted psychology professor at the University of Washington, revealed that she was suffering with BPD. The New York Times then profiled her, and the story noted that "No one knows how many people with severe mental illness live what appear to be normal, successful lives, because such people are not in the habit of announcing themselves."

It's brave and helpful for a celebrity like Marshall to be open about his struggles. His efforts on behalf of mental illness deserve support. And the NFL especially should support them, given the brain battering its players endure. Come to think of it, the league should be donating to Marshall's foundation.

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