Brandon Marshall is a player who comes with a lot of baggage. In March of 2012, shortly after the Bears acquired the then 27-year-old receiver, the Chicago Tribune published an article outlining every time Marshall had been involved in some sort of problematic incident off the field.
It is not a short list.
It includes, amongst other things, two arrests for suspicion of domestic violence, an alleged purse snatching, getting into an argument with his father in a parking lot over allegedly firing a gun, stealing sheets from a Burlington Coat Factory, and one incident in which Marshall had to be taken to hospital after his wife stabbed him in the abdomen… because, as he later admitted, he had tried to trap her in a closet.
So it’s understandably hard to conflate that Marshall with the Marshall who just this past week was talking to the NFL Thursday Night Football crew after the Bears’ victory over the Giants. Upon being asked about his feelings regarding Bears QB Jay Cutler, the man with a history of antagonizing his loved ones was replaced by one who was bursting with affection.
“This year man, it’s like night and day, he’s unbelievable,” he said. “I mean, I’m lost for words when I talk about him.” Marshall went on to talk about how well-read Cutler was, and how impressed he was with Cutler’s quest for self-improvement as a father and a husband. When asked if any of Cutler’s improved performance could be attributed to new head coach Marc Trestman, Marshall said, “You know, honestly, it’s more credit to Cutler.” He later added that Cutler is “probably the smartest man in any room.”
If this seems like a suspiciously hyperbolic assessment of Cutler (a player so famous for his bored and stupid expressions that he spawned a meme wherein cigarettes are photoshopped lazily dangling from the corner his mouth), that’s because it probably is. Marshall suffers from a mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder, a disease that, amongst other things, causes you to see everyone you know as either your best friend or your greatest enemy, and your mind determines which of two they are based only on the last thing they did or said. Marshall had a great game, in large part due to Cutler. It’s unsurprising that in this moment, Cutler is Marshall’s very best friend in the world.
But the game was not without controversy. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, and against the wishes of the NFL, Marshall wore a pair of lime green cleats during the game, which he then planned to auction for charity. The NFL warned Marshall that wearing the cleats would result in a fine. Anticipating this, Marshall pledged to match that fine with a donation to a cancer care charity.
In a post Metta World Peace world, it might be easy to write off what Marshall is doing as a stunt to improve his public image. After all, while Marshall took great pains to treat his 2011 diagnosis as his mea culpa, less than a year later, he was accused of hitting a woman in the face in a New York night club.
But even the place Marshall is in right now is remarkable. To see that, you need only Google “celebrities with Borderline Personality Disorder.” What you end up with are lists that include many individuals famous for their abilities to firebomb their own lives: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears. Even more telling is that all of these lists are merely guesses made by lay people.
It’s exceptional for any famous person, let alone an athlete, to come forward with their BPD diagnosis. Without any positive PR, BPD remains an illness that is rarely discussed and poorly understood.
Even being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder is a trial; sufferers deal with tremendous emotional instability, and often lack the self-awareness to seek help. And if they do, they may react poorly to any suggestions that something may be wrong with them, as they live in constant fear of being abandoned or attacked, and can lack the ability to tell the difference between an assist and an assault. It’s a state of mind that can ruin the lives of the sufferers and their loved ones alike, and it’s this emotional flux that makes Marshall seem almost like two separate people.
Is it possible that Marshall could do something terrible to someone tomorrow? Yes. And if that happens, he would need to be held accountable. But tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. Managing BPD is a lot like managing any pervasive disorder; it’s something you handle one day at a time for the rest of your life. And if Marshall wants to channel his energy into getting attention for his illness, the worst thing that can happen is that his illness finally gets some attention.