Football is back. Over the weekend, the NFL had its first preseason game of the year – the Hall of Fame game. With this game, came the 2018 inductee class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Leading up to the event, it was chronicled that Brian Dawkins struggled with mental health issues. Struggle is an understatement – he not only had suicidal thoughts, but he planned his suicide so that his wife would receive the insurance money.
Many people understand that football provides so much structure to life. Every minute is planned from meetings, to rehab, to meals, strategy, etc. When players retire, they struggle to cope with the freedom that comes with retirement – many would believe that this is when Dawkins struggled with depression because he was unable to find his identity. These people would be wrong. During the early days of his playing career, during his rookie and sophomore season, Dawkins was in a dark place. He contemplated suicide and his wife was the only thing that helped him through it. She reached out to Emmitt Thomas, one of Dawkins’ coaches, and the two were able to help get Dawkins on the right track again.
Dawkins took time during his Hall of Fame speech to recount his battle with depression and mental health illness. He said, “So for those who are going through it right now, there’s hope. You do have hope. There is something on the other side of this. Don’t get caught up where you are. Don’t stay where you are. Keep moving. Keep pushing through.” This was one of the most powerful moments of the night because he acknowledged his battle with depression, and is living proof that it can be beaten. Mental health should be seen as a continuum – it is not a yes or no answer. Rather, we all have issues and some days are better than others. By bringing attention to this issue, Dawkins assuredly saved lives through his speech. He reached people through his speech who are suffering, and he gave them hope. This is what the power of sports can do for strangers – it can unite, heal and help overcome any issue that life throws our direction.