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Brandon Brooks makes it okay to not be okay

“When public figures, especially professional athletes, speak, people listen.”

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-OTA Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “How Carson Wentz Helped My Clinical Depression” for BGN. I detailed how, after years of personal and mental struggles, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder this summer and started to try to put my life back together.

As anyone who knows me even a little bit (or just follows me on Twitter) can attest to, professional sports are an enormous part of my life. I’m a firm believer in the universal power of sports, how teams and franchises can heal fractured cities, communities and families in the most dire of times. It just so happened that in my greatest time of need, the Eagles found a franchise quarterback who, for three hours each Sunday, gave me a respite from the mental hell I occupied.

While that article dealt with how sports aided my mental health struggles, it’s extremely rare to see such vulnerability from the athletes who people adore and follow religiously. The tired notion of what it means to be “masculine” or “manly” gets drilled into boys’ heads from their first tee-ball practice. “Man up!” is a phrase I heard all too often while playing sports growing up, and it’s something even heard from professional commentators during games. That thought process teaches men to internalize their feelings and struggles, as if there’s something wrong with being emotional, sensitive, or wearing your heart on your sleeves. It’s okay to not be okay. Life isn’t so perfect as to be so black or white about how men should act. Some people are dealt a hand that calls for an emotional release and mental health care.

This all brings me to Brandon Brooks, the Eagles’ starting right guard. Signed during this offseason, Brooks quickly endeared himself to the Philadelphia faithful with his newfound love of Wawa. As this year progressed, however, Brooks’ anxiety worsened so severely to the point where he missed games against Green Bay and Washington this season. “I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed,” Brooks said about his mental health issues. “It’s life. I’ll get through this.”

Fuck yeah, Brandon Brooks! You shouldn’t be embarrassed. No one should be. I dealt with my own personal demons in solace for years, suffering quietly in agony due to the stigma surrounding mental health treatment. I was a man! I should be able to handle my problems on my own! Or so I thought. That’s a task that no one can bear alone, nor should they have to.

If a man as physically strong as Brandon Brooks, all 346 lbs. of him, can’t block anxiety from his mind, what chance does any ordinary person have? That’s why he’s important. The more people who speak out about how you shouldn’t be embarrassed or emasculated about seeking out help, the less this hyper-macho society of ours stigmatizes it. When public figures, especially professional athletes, speak, people listen, as they should with something as serious as this.

Brooks returned to the Eagles’ lineup yesterday against the Ravens. He helped bolster a rushing attack that totaled 169 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Despite the loss, it was an exciting game in its own right between Wentz displaying some moxie on his scramble for a last-second touchdown and the drama of that ill-fated two-point conversion. Three hours of a break from reality. That’s what Brooks and the Birds gave me. After a rough week of my own with my fight with depression and anxiety, those three hours meant the world to me.

After the game, Brooks sent out the following tweet:

Do you know what happened after I read that? I cried. I was just so overcome with emotion that someone who helps lift my spirits each week had their own mental health battle, and that they were kicking anxiety’s ass just by stepping out on that field at M&T Bank Stadium. The more our athletes get praised for publicizing their issues in the overall effort to de-stigmatize mental health and the less they’re made out to be some oddball weirdo like Ricky Williams was, the closer we can all get to becoming a world where we’re aiding people with their problems free from judgment.

So thank you, Brandon Brooks. As you strive for victory on the field with the Birds, know that you inspire others to have their own little personal victories in their approach to improving themselves.