Eagles legend Brian Dawkins opens up on how he took control of his mental health


We all grow up looking up to famous athletes, actors, musicians, and anyone who’s able to really grasp the spotlight. I grew up wanting to be like Allen Iverson every time I touched a basketball but when it came to football, the Eagles were my team through and through.

I remember watching McNabb scramble like he was invincible or Brian Westbrook juke in and out of traffics like he was unstoppable but there was one player who captured more than just my fandom. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was a 9x Pro Bowler or the fact that he’s the only player with at least 25 interceptions, 25 sacks, and 25 forced fumbles.

It had nothing to do with his first career which was the game of football. It was all about his second career for me. Brian Dawkins is undeniably one of the most unique sports figures of all time. The man was able to transform his energy every Sunday and allow the world to feel his passion from the moment where he crawled out the tunnel and leaped from the floor to his game-changing plays.

You don’t see safeties like him anymore. There’s truly no comparison to the brilliant career of Brian Dawkins. Dawkins was such a rare player that the Eagles actually built the defense around him so they could take advantage of his unique skillset. That’s who he is: a generational talent, a family man, and a believer in Jesus.

While many fans can pinpoint specifics moments where Dawkins took their breath away on the field; it was off the field for me when Brian really took mine. In 2018, Brian Dawkins was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After a 16 year career and more than a handful of accolades, Dawkins accomplish the ultimate feat in the world’s eyes but in his heart, it was just the beginning for him.

Dawkins took the stage to give a speech that will forever be remembered. As he waited to say his first words at the podium, the crowd’s roar continued to grow louder and louder as he took a deep breath and yelled, “first of all, Hallelujah!” He then led by thanking Troy Vincent, Patrick Sapp, his family, and many others.

Dawkins went on to speak about his upbringing, the journey that bright him to this pivotal moment in his life, and the role that his faith played in all of it. He then admitted to something that resonated through my soul. Dawkins went out and mentioned,

“As you’ve been listening, as you read this week, I suffer from depression. I went through it mightily my rookie year. I’ve suffered through suicidal thoughts. And I wasn’t just suffering through suicidal thoughts, I was actually planning the way I would kill myself so my wife would get the money.”

That was it.

That’s what I needed to hear. For myself, I battled with my cerebral day in and day out. I’m an introvert that’s trying to find his voice in a noisy world. I’ve suffered through years of depression from my childhood to my young adult ages. I’ve been diagnosed and medicated for it and just like Brian, I approached a crossroads in my life where I had to decide if the doctors would be responsible for my healing or if my God would.

I went cold turkey and flushed the medications down the toilet as I chose to allow God to heal me and restore a balance in my mind. To now know, at 31 years old that I, myself can relate to an individual like Brian is necessary. It’s a comfort to know that I too can find my way out of the darkness just like he has.

On Tuesday, July 21st, we were fortunate enough to host Brian on our podcast, Flippin’ the Birds!, to discuss his foundation and the impact he’s looking to have within schools and communities. He first reflected on how he’s learned to carry himself in a different way to make sure he’s representing his family, household, and the God he serves.

“I listen more than I talk, I try my best to listen more than I talk; listen but I’m also watching a lot, listen to what people say and then I allow that into me and I respond accordingly.”

That’s exactly what Dawkins has done now. Brian has started a foundation called the Impact a Foundation to help all people of different walks of life to grow stronger mentally. He started the foundation in 2019 and has planted his roots in Jacksonville, FL, and is looking to expand to Philadelphia and even Clemson.

“There’s no coincidence that it happens to actually get going this year, and our initial thrust into it has been with Cerebral wellness.”

Dawkins prefers the terminology of Cerebral wellness due to all of the negativity that surrounds the term mental health. “I talk about Cerebral wellness, I don’t talk about mental health or mental illness because there’s too much of a negative connotation, I ant to kind of chop away at it, so I call it Cerebral Wellness.”

His aim with the foundation is a simple one – to help people take care of their cerebral health and fight through hardship.

“The focus is to help provide a vessel for those who can’t speak out. He declared that “we have to be able to get these things off of us, my way is prayer cause I’m a man of faith. To give individuals, like me, the support needed when we just need someone to talk to. Sometimes the pressure of society can really get the best of us. For men, we’re taught to be “macho” and to be emotionless. Brian rightfully disagrees with that logic. He mentioned how he needed to focus on being a Godly man, a man who can be the standard for his daughters, a man who can be an example for his, and most importantly a man who be there for his wife just as she has for him.”

Brian also shared some intimate details about his mental state when first entering the NFL.

“In my rookie year, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was having so many thoughts, drinking a lot more than I usually do to cope with some of the feelings I wasn’t letting out. I had pressure and pull from family members on one end that needed things I couldn’t give and I didn’t know how to say no. My coach was hard on me because he saw something in me that I did not see. My young family, my son was crying a lot. I had a lot in me that I wasn’t talking about. I had to get some help.”

Dawkins wants to help parents and young adults in communities close to his heart. To help them battle through adversities and find the silver linings worth fighting for. Again, this isn’t just a man, this is an icon that so many already look up to.

“If a person is really contemplating suicide, I’ll always give them that hotline. Try to convince them that their future is worth it. The place that you’re in right now is painful and I get it. I remember how mine felt. Just like I tell them in my messages, if I listened to that dark voice, my three daughters would not be here. I would not be here to talk to you about my life. Your future is worth pushing through. On the other side of that pain, if you grow through, you’re stronger on the other side.”

“I want to bless young adults and their parents. There’s things in the program that will help anybody who applies it to their lives. Naming your emotion, re-framing your thoughts, something anybody can do. “

Let’s be honest for a moment. The world has changed, it’s been filled with hate as of late from all directions. Our youth could suffer the most if we don’t speak out for them and show them that it’s ok to be open with how they’re feeling. We need more people like Brian Dawkins. More support systems in our homes, our communities, and our country. The Impact Foundation is looking to be just that and with a man like Brian Dawkins leading the blitz, how can they lose?

Mandatory Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports