NFL Duo Tackles Stigmas Of Mental Illness And Substance Abuse

By McCarton Ackerman 12/02/15

Arian Foster and Brandon Marshall have used their experiences coping with addiction to help others.

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Several NFL players are showing a side that fans don’t often get to see on the field, opening up about their personal battles with mental illness and self-medicating through drugs and alcohol.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster said he began drinking to cope with the pressures of his newfound fame. It was only when his then-wife, Romina, decided to divorce him that he knew something had to change.

“I was drinking heavily ... I was not the best husband. I just wasn't,” admitted Foster. “And that was because I didn't know how to be a husband. ... I was out there just trying to wing it." Foster began counseling sessions earlier this year and said that even a season-ending Achilles tendon injury didn’t cause a setback in the emotional work he’d done.

He has now joined New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall in helping to eradicate the stigma of mental illness. Marshall launched PROJECT 375, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and disorders, shortly after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011.

"I had a chance to lose my wife, possibly my career, and that would have been a lot, especially at the age of 27. I probably wouldn't have been able to cope and deal with that," said Marshall. "So I'm glad that we took the proper steps, did the work, and now we've went from patient to provider."

Foster said he was encouraged to work with PROJECT 375 because of his sister, Christina, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her mental illness impacted their relationship for years, but they have begun mending fences since she has sought help for it.

"We didn't have money to get any kind of diagnosis so we just thought that she was a (jerk)," said Foster. "It got to the point where I stopped talking to her because I couldn't deal with it, and I didn't know what she was going through. So we lost years of our life because we didn't know she was suffering from this disease."

Although Foster isn’t sure yet if his injury will also keep him off the field for next season, he said the work he’s done in therapy has brought him to the best spot in his life.

"I'm on the brink of a career-ending injury according to pundits. I'm divorced. I'm supposed to be underneath the table drinking myself to death,” he said. “But I've never been happier and it's because of the work I've put in and the want to change my life ... All these scars on my body, all these scars on my soul made me who I am and I like me."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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