For Brandon Marshall, the NFL’s third leading wide receiver in both touchdowns and total yards among active players, on field battles were secondary to the ongoing grapple taking place inside of his mind. In spite of—or on account of, depending on who you’re asking—Brandon’s battle with Borderline Personality Disorder (a disorder that affects more than four million people in the United States alone), the 6’4” product of Pittsburgh, PA is one of the most celebrated athletes in sports. In fact, his championing for mental health advocacy and practical approach toward leading a healthy and effective life, are the backdrop of Champs Sports’ “We Know Game” campaign.
“We Know Game” highlights Brandon’s inspirational story, and encourages others to similarly embrace the challenges they face while navigating through life. His message is simple, “be yourself.” It’s this attitude and honest self acceptance that has allowed Marshall to continue to excel at the highest level, even as he prepares to commence his eleventh NFL season this fall.
We caught up with the Jets’ Pro Bowl receiver and Under Armour-sponsored athlete, during downtime with his family before heading off to NFL training camp, and talked about his battle with BPD, why he hates the word “grind,” and why John Varvatos is his style icon.
Take me back to Pittsburgh. What would you tell your younger self about what he will have to endure and overcome in his life?
You know what? I already knew at that age. But, in some environments, you see too much too soon. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. So, if I had to go back, I wouldn’t have to tell myself anything but, “stick to the process. You're going to make your mistakes, and it’s not always going to be easy. Just keep your head down and keep working.” People think that they get to a point where growth stops, and that’s not the case. You’re always supposed to grow and that’s the approach I’m going to take until I die.
Your personal story is well documented, for good and for bad, and there are a few blemishes, but for that same reason your story is inspiring. In fact, the “We Know Game” campaign is built around you, having overcome transgressions and navigating your way to success. Why is it important for you to use your platform to inspire other people?
Well, because it’s my purpose. It’s why I’m here. It’s why we’re all here: to sacrifice our life, our body, our everything, to pull up the next person. And, for me, [the focus] happens to be in the mental health area. A lot of times people focus so much on the physical, and neglect the mental. There are so many people being blessed by the things I’ve been through, good and bad, and I’ll never get this platform again, so I’m going to shout it on the rooftop as much as I can.
What’s something that’s commonly misunderstood about people suffering with BPD?
You know what? I would say that all mental illness is highly stigmatized. People have to understand that they are not their diagnosis. Everytime we hear about a shooting in our country, the first thing people say is, “oh, that person must be suffering from mental illness.” No, not necessarily. And, I think it’s extremely important for us to change the narrative. Not only in our our community but also in media, because people are continuing to really put those who are suffering from a small bout of depression in a box, and saying, “this person is crazy and it’s impossible for them to live a healthy and effective life.” We have to understand that a mental ailment should be treated the same way as a physical ailment. There’s no difference.
Switching gears a bit. In your own words, define “grind.”
I don’t like the word, grind. I hate when people say, “I’m grinding, I’m grinding.” It’s really negative. When I see the word, grind, I see someone with a mean-mug, and just struggling, like, “I’m tired, but I’m fighting through!” And that’s not how it’s supposed to be. If we’re working, [we should be be] doing it with love and doing it with excitement, because that’s what we enjoy. So, for me, I like to say, “sticking to the process.” And the process is just getting up every day and putting your best foot forward. And that’s how I look at the difference between the grind and the process.
You are one of the most decorated receivers in the league, but you’ve played for four different teams in four different cities. Similarly, growing up, you moved from state to state for various familial reasons. How did your upbringing help prepare you to deal with so many team changes while maintaining a high level of success?
It’s really difficult. I’ve played with eight different quarterbacks, and, stability in whatever you’re doing, whether sport or life, is vital for success. I’ve been blessed to be able to move around a little bit and still produce at a high level. A lot of people look at it as a negative thing, but I look at it as something awesome. Right now, I’m looking at the New York skyline, and a couple of years ago I was looking at the Chicago skyline, and a couple of years before that I was on South Beach in Miami, and then I was in the Rockies in Denver. So, sports teaches you so many life lessons and also exposes you to our world. It’s just amazing to be around different people, different cultures, different parts of the world, because that’s vital for all of us.
You just brought up a rivalry of sorts. If you had to choose: Chicago or New York skyline?
I love you Chicago. But, I mean, you can’t compare any skyline to New York’s. There’s nothing in the world like it. There’s nothing in cartoons like it!
Personal expression and style are big parts of your advocacy for wellbeing. Who would you consider your style icon?
I would say, John Varvatos. What I love about him is that the style is super simple and super clean, and he may add one thing that pops. It may be a bracelet, could be the shoes, could be a pair of glasses, but he never overdoes it. A lot of people in fashion like to try too hard. To be honest with you, I’m not a fashion guy, I just like being simple. Sprezzatura—you just wake up and throw on anything, and feel good about it. I also like Zuckerberg and Ashton Kutcher, because it’s just super simple. You know how much anxiety we get by trying to look good for other people instead of just feeling good with what we have on?
Lastly, with everything you’ve learned and accomplished so far in life, what is the one takeaway that you can share to people taking note?
What I’ve learned in my career is that there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, and it’s really important that you treat both the same.