Brandon Brooks’ Anxiety is ‘A Daily Battle’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Mo' money, mo' problems.
The Notorious B.I.G.'s hip-hop anthem is probably better defined by the cliche that money doesn't solve problems, it just creates new ones.
In the case of Eagles Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks that sentiment manifested itself after one of the NFL's top offensive linemen received a much-deserved four-year, $54.2 million contract extension earlier this month.
The anxiety that Brooks had kept under control since the 2016 season resurfaced before Sunday's game against Seattle when the big man couldn't stop vomiting. He started the 17-9 loss and played through the first series but continued to be plagued on the sidelines, something that forced him to leave the game.
Originally dubbed an illness by the Eagles, Brooks admitted the anxiety had returned and has used to his platform to educate many who don't understand how a 6-foot-5, 340-pound man on top of the world could be dealing with the same issue that plagues tens of millions in America.
“I don’t do this to have people feel sorry for me or anything like that,” Brooks explained. “The reason I try to share what I go through and my story is for people out there who are scared to get help or feel embarrassed and ashamed who go through any type of mental illness.”
For Brooks his anxiety has always been tied to living up to expectations and when the bar was raised by his new extension, which made him the highest-paid OG in the NFL, the doubts starting to creep into his mind.
“When I got the new contract, I tried to talk myself down about it," Brooks said. "'Hey, you’re playing great, just keep doing what you’re doing, no issue.'"
Brooks even broached the subject out loud with his therapist but in hindsight that only accelerated the latest anxiety attack.
“I talked to my therapist about it, and I think also by talking about it consciously, it started to set in my head," he explained. "Like, 'hey, you know you have to show everybody you're worth the money and x, y and z,' when, 'hey, just go out there and play. No need to change what you’ve been doing.'”
In many ways Brooks' Tuesday media session was tinged with irony. The man struggling with anxiety surrounded by 20-plus reporters with microphones and cameras trying to catch every moment.
For many on looking on from outside the NovaCare Complex that looked like something far more uncomfortable that what comes naturally to Brooks but everyone is different. For some public speaking is a bridge too far. For others, it might be those expectations or dozens of other reasons.
A trigger is a trigger. For Brooks, it remains his competitive nature.
“It’s always been a double-edged sword,” Brooks said when discussing his psyche. “It’s something that always has driven me and sometimes driven me a little too much. It’s a daily battle. I’ve gotten a lot better with it, obviously not having an episode for a couple of years. But stuff happens. I continue to fight day by day. It’ll get better. And my biggest goal is to continue to keep that space between instances.”
Because a fight isn't public doesn't mean it's not raging behind the scenes and Brooks understands this is a fight that will remain ongoing for the rest of his career and into his post-football life.
Part of his way of dealing with is helping others who struggle with these kinds of issues around the league who haven't had the strength to talk about it openly.
“The biggest thing is to have an open environment, an open forum,” Brooks said. “Allowing guys to come forward, hopefully, sooner than later, at their own pace and seek the help they need. Just keep an environment where everybody’s door is open. Guys shouldn’t be afraid to talk about anything with anybody in the building. That’s the environment we have here.”
That environment has spawned perhaps the most tightly-knit offensive line in the NFL at the back of the Eagles locker room with the lockers mimicking the core from left to right -- Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, and the two best friends on the right side, Brooks and Lane Johnson.
"I think when anything pretty serious like this happens, I mean you hear us talk about being a brotherhood and having each other’s backs, but actions always speak louder than words,” Brooks said. “No matter if it was me or somebody else going through this, whenever something serious like this happens, teammates rally around each other. And they’ve rallied around me since I’ve been here, day one. And I absolutely love these guys. That’s why it hurts so much to not be out there when something like this happens.”
Asked why more athletes, in general, didn’t speak out about their issues, Brooks amplified the stigma: “Because we’re supposed to be modern-day gladiators. We’re getting paid more than the rest of the public. We’re playing what some people call just a game, we’re not supposed to have any emotions, we’re supposed to just play and do what we’re told."
Players aren't video games come to life, however.
“We’re people, we’re human beings," Brooks stated. "We go through the same things that everybody else goes through, everyday issues that 40 million Americans go through. We’re no different. When we have issues, the only difference is it’s front-page news. But there are a lot of people who go through the same issues we all go through.”
Brooks plans to be back on the field Sunday in South Florida and the plan moving forward will include weekly therapy sessions and medication.
“It’s a daily battle,” Brooks conceded. “I’ve gotten a lot better with it, obviously not having an episode in a couple years, but stuff happens. I continue to fight day-by-day. It’ll get better.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen