Thanks to Leo Espina for bringing this to my attention. I’ll be sharing this article today with a group rookie fire fighters who are preparing to graduate shortly.
While playing in the biggest game of his life Eagles guard Brandon Brooks will also take on his anxiety disorder
By Bill Plaschke, LA Times
FEB 02, 2018 | 6:00 AM
Brooks knows he’s going to vomit before the game because he lives with an anxiety disorder. Then he’ll laugh and go play.
He’s going to vomit. He just knows he’s going to vomit.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Brandon Brooks, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl guard, is going to run to the toilet.
“Before every game, I throw up,” he said.
He will then step on the U.S. Bank Stadium field and feel a pressure, a rising in his chest, a tension enveloping every corner of his 6-foot-5, 346-pound frame. The return of the fear.
What if he misses a block? What if he allows a sack? What if he makes a mistake that costs the Eagles?
“I can’t stop thinking about letting my team down, letting the world down, the microscope being on me,” he said.
There was a time this fear triggered vomiting all day and night, causing him to miss the game. He has been sick enough for teammates to surround him in prayer, and for team doctors to send him to a hospital where he would watch those teammates on TV with his head stuck in a bowl.
It happened twice last year. It’s happened four times in his five seasons as a starter.
But it won’t happen this time. On Super Bowl Sunday, Brooks will be ready for the fear, prepared to engage it in battle.
He will take deep breaths. He will realize that this is how his body processes the pressure. He will understand how he works. He knows it will pass. He will not vomit a second time.
One year after publicly and vulnerably acknowledging a debilitating anxiety disorder, Brandon Brooks has never been stronger.
“I know I’m going to feel it on Sunday,” he said. “But I know I’ll be fine.”
They live behind masks, and underneath pads, and we think they’re Superman. They make millions, and perform miracles, and we forget that they’re real.
“In our game, you’re looked at like a modern-day gladiator; nothing is supposed to affect you,” Brooks said during an interview Thursday. “You make a lot of money, so you’re not a human being. You’re not supposed to have emotions.”
From the moment he went from Miami (Ohio) to the Houston Texans as a third-round draft pick in 2012, Brooks began feeling those taboo emotions. By his second season, he became a starter, and the heat from the spotlight — even for a supposedly anonymous offensive lineman — became stifling.
“All of a sudden you’re becoming the guy, everyone counting on me, and I’ve got to make the play every time,” he said. “In this game, the talent gap is so small, to think like that will eat you up.”
It began eating him up. He began literally spitting it out. During his three years with Houston, he could never play a full season because of his vomiting bouts. He never missed more than one start, so the world didn’t know, but he knew.
“I kept thinking I had a stomach ulcer, but doctors couldn’t find anything, and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Brooks didn’t seek help because Goliath isn’t supposed to seek help. He quietly endured until last season, his first in Philadelphia as a prized free agent scheduled to make $40 million over five years.
Amid the money and stardom expectations, he finally crumbled, missing a late November start against the Green Bay Packers when be became so sick he couldn’t get off the training table. “To me, it was a little bit scary, to tell you the truth,” center Jason Kelce recalled. “I’d never seen anything like it before.”
Two Sundays later, he missed a game against the Washington Redskins after becoming so ill that he required transport to the hospital.
“Sitting in the hospital bed, I would throw up, watch the game, throw up, watch the game,” he said. “I had gotten to the point where I didn’t know how or where my career could have gone.”
It was during that second episode that doctors diagnosed the anxiety disorder, after which Brooks faced a different pressure: How would he explain it? He could have said he was suffering from some obscure back injury. If the football world knew the truth, his life could be even tougher.
“I was given two avenues — I could be honest why I missed those games, or make something up,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to lie. At that point, I didn’t want to have anything to hide.”
So, even though he said he was literally shaking, he faced the media and told the courageous truth. What happened next stunned him like a safety blitz.
The tough NFL embraced him, opponents quietly coming to him after games to share similar stories. The tough Philadelphia crowd empowered him, fans leaving notes of encouragement for him in the lobby of his apartment building.
“I had no idea it would have the reach it did,” Brooks said. “You’d be surprised how many players are going through the same thing. Then there were people actually coming up to me on the streets and talking about their own anxiety.”
Many of his teammates rallied around him, many of them feeling free to express their own fears. “We have lot of respect for Brandon. It took a lot of courage to come out and say that, it took a lot of humility. Most guys would have just made something up,” Eagles offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said. “The way he’s handled it is really impressive.”
Not all of his teammates were supportive. Brooks said some still don’t understand, wrongly thinking that he just needs to toughen up.
“When you admit something like I did, people think it’s going to be all love, all Disney. It’s not,” he said. “Some people were like, hey, I really don’t know about this.”
Brooks became only more determined to get well. He began weekly sessions with a psychologist, which have continued this Super Bowl week via FaceTime. He kept anxiety medicine on hand for emergencies. He began an offseason of personal work and discovery.
But first he made a visit. A couple of months after last winter’s revelation, on the day after a snowstorm, he drove an hour into Delaware to speak to the children of Southern Elementary.
He had been invited there, via a random Twitter message, by fifth-grade teacher Emily Schussler, who was stunned he actually came.
“He walked through the door and I said, ‘Oh my God, you actually showed up?”’ she recalled. “I can’t explain how incredible he is.”
Brooks did more than show up. After his speech, he visited with a boy who suffers from such anxiety that he spent the days hiding beneath his hoodie. After a quiet conversation, Brooks took a piece of notebook paper and wrote him an inspirational message.
“I think when you get into this position, whether you like it or not, you’re on a platform,” Brooks said. “The good you can do from this platform far exceeds anything you can do individually.”
It’s been all good for him since then, as he made his first Pro Bowl, not allowing a sack in 16 regular-season games, and teaming with Lane Johnson for what might be the best right side of an offensive line in football.
“But the thing that I’m most proud of is, I played all 16 games without having anxiety, without missing a game. That was my biggest goal,” Brooks said. “I’m more confident in myself than I’ve ever been. I’m more secure than I’ve ever been.”
So, on Sunday, somewhere in the tightening hours before the Super Bowl, he will vomit. But only once. It will not scare him. It will not own him.
“After I throw up, I’ll literally laugh,” said Brandon Brooks, confident and secure. “Then I’ll go play.”