(MCT) — CHICAGO — Give me an engaged and introspective professional athlete over a bored and dismissive one any day.
Give me a player thoughtful and deep with good intentions over one cliched and shallow without a care in the world, a guy who understands that his audience reaches well beyond the locker room.
Not only does sports need more guys trying to set better examples and higher standards, but society does too. Sports need more self-aware athletes such as Brandon Marshall, a mental-health patient proudly taking advantage of his platform as the biggest difference in this promising Bears season.
Still, we watch Marshall with an understandably wary sense of wonderment. Always open in every sense, Marshall strikes me as fascinating as any Bears player in the post-1985 era. Without fail since arriving via trade last March, Marshall has represented the Bears and raised awareness for borderline personality disorder with eloquence and passion.
He defends teammates with ease. He spouts off statistics about BPD by heart. He blends humor with insight, sincerity with vulnerability. He backs it all up with production on the field that keeps the focus on a hopeful future rather than Marshall’s troubled past.
Listen to Marshall consistently embrace his role as NFL star to attack the stigma attached to mental illness and respect and admiration come easily.
Surely Marshall can understand why cautiousness does too.
I can call Marshall the most compelling Bears player I have covered and still caution fans about showing unconditional love for someone who needs more than seven months to fully convince Chicago that he, in fact, has transformed his life.
You can appreciate all the signs Marshall really has changed since receiving a pioneering treatment called dialectical behavior therapy in June 2011 and still wait a while before fully believing it.
Only time will tell how long Marshall’s recovery lasts — and rest assured he will keep talking while we wait.
“I want to continue to use my life and do the right things so people can see the change in me,” Marshall said Wednesday at Halas Hall.
Addressing his third high-profile spat this season, Marshall refused to back down from unsolicited Twitter comments that Ndamukong Suh’s hit on Jay Cutler was dirty. Even Cutler absolved Suh, whom Marshall tweeted to “succeed with character.”
“I think Jay is in the position with you guys anything he says may be taken the wrong way and it’s important for his teammates to speak for him at times,” Marshall said, implying Cutler agreed with him.
The attack on Suh — which Marshall didn’t address at a postgame news conference Monday night — came after previous vocal dust-ups with Warren Sapp and Stephen A. Smith.
Sapp deserved castigation for calling Marshall a “retard.” Smith, the bombastic ESPN personality, irked Marshall by flippantly linking multiple personality disorder — different than Marshall’s BPD — to the 2007 shooting death of former Broncos teammate Darrent Williams.
Their on- and off-air discussions escalated Tuesday when Marshall appeared on ESPN’s “First Take.” Booked to address Suh’s tackle, Marshall spent most of his bizarre 26-minute appearance debating Smith on ancillary issues such as Christianity and “yellow journalism.” It grew heated enough to know that the Steve Smith who Marshall praised Wednesday was the Panthers wide receiver.
The Bears have a Super Bowl-caliber team. Injuries and distractions are more feared enemies than the Panthers and Titans. Forget worrying about how Marshall will handle adversity. Will prosperity empower Marshall to be an even more aggressive social-media participant?
I asked Lovie Smith about Marshall inviting controversy because it didn’t seem like Smith’s style.
“It’s my style if there’s something I don’t like about something that someone said,” Smith said. “This is all I tell the guys: If there is something you want to talk about, just put your name behind it. Brandon Marshall is making comments he feels he should. I have no problem with that.”
Nor should anyone. But it does make me wonder how a man openly seeking peace of mind helps achieve it by initiating public confrontations that create avoidable stress. What might Marshall say to anyone questioning whether conflict offers the clearest path to tranquillity?
“I don’t think they should say that because they’re not clinicians,” Marshall said. “They don’t know what I go through or where I’m at in my life. I’m comfortable. I know who I am. I think things through. Every opportunity I get, that’s what it’s about.
“It’s not about Brandon Marshall the football player. I’ve been blessed with talent and a platform and it’s not to score touchdowns but to use ‘Monday Night Football’ to help somebody else. Inspire somebody else.”
Brandon Marshall the person remains a work in progress.
But nobody’s cynicism should obscure the fact that it is progress.