In his 13 seasons as a Philadelphia Eagle and 3 seasons as a Denver Bronco, former safety Brian Dawkins delivered many, many hits, for a total of 247 tackles during his illustrious NFL career. But his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday was a hit in a different way. Here is his speech in its entirety:
Not exactly a “ho-hum” speech. It wasn’t just a “ho-ho-ho” speech either. Dawkins spoke about the pain that he suffered as a player, including his struggles with depression. Here is what he said at the 4:30 mark:
See there was a purpose for my pain. There’s a purpose for my pain. As you’ve been listening, as you’ve probably read all this week, I suffer from depression. I went through it mightily in my rookie year. I suffered through suicidal thoughts. And I wasn’t just suffering through suicidal thoughts, I was actually planning the way that I would kill myself, so my wife would get the money.
This was the guy nicknamed “Weapon X,” the 9-time Pro Bowler, the guy who would deliver motivational speeches to his teammates before and during games, such as the one at the beginning of this video:
As you can imagine, soft gooey players don’t get nicknamed a “weapon.” In a city known for having tough fans (how many other cities can claim that they booed Santa Claus during a game), Dawkins’ play on the field earned him a reputation for toughness. But toughness doesn’t mean acting like everything is going well all the time. It takes real strength to admit your weaknesses and your struggles and to seek help. Bottling up your problems like a bottle of seltzer water on a mechanical bull isn’t a sign of strength. It just means that your problems will explode someday in an unexpected and potentially uncontrollable way.
If Dawkins had successfully executed his “plans” during his rookie year, he would never have become the face of the Eagles’ defense for much of the 2000’s. He wouldn’t have been around to help take the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004 or to be honored in Canton. But fortunately, Dawkins had someone who was willing to listen and willing to help. Here is what he said about former Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas at the 10:30 mark of his speech:
I call you Uncle Emmitt for a reason. When I was in those depressive states, when I was thinking about suicide, it was because of your hand, your guidance, and your believing in me, helping me to go see somebody about the struggles I was having, to allow me to be alive today. So you’re one of those guardian angels that blessed by the best, yes, I’ve been blessed, and he’s one of the best I’m talking about.
He also thanked his wife Connie:
Because of Connie. Because of you. Because of you urging me to go see a a psychologist to go talk about my problems. And be more open with you about my problems so we could talk things out.
Dawkins joins a growing list of current and former professional athletes who have opened up about their mental health struggles that includes NBA stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, as I previously described for Forbes. Maybe hearing about Dawkins struggles will help fans follow suit and be more honest about their own challenges. There is a difference between acting tough and truly being tough. As Dawkins’ career and speech have shown, he is a tough act to follow.