Brian Dawkins reveals career-long battle with depression

Set to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, defensive back Brian Dawkins recently revealed to an NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter that he battled depression, including thoughts of suicide, throughout his career.

‘I went through a real deep, dark depression’

Reporter Derrick Gunn spent some time with Dawkins, who spent 13 years of his 16-year NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles, at his home in Colorado, and wrote that Dawkins’ shared his struggle.

It began, he said, in his rookie year. He was a newlywed, a new dad to a colicky son, and a new NFL player who was constantly being pushed by his position coach.

“When you’re a newlywed, that’s tough in itself. You have your way of doing things and your spouse has their way, and there are some things that clash in between,” Dawkins said. “But I also had issues growing up period with my anger issues. Not being able to deal with some of the things like the extra energy I had.

“I had troubles channeling that anger in the right direction. They would come out in outbursts, and because I’m a quiet individual, and as men, we don’t talk … anyway, I talked even less, and so all that stuff was bounding up. When you don’t have answers, it comes out in different ways. During that first year, I had a lot of pressures from family members, being a newlywed, my son, Brian, was born.

“We’re new parents with a colicky baby, so there’s no sleep, and then, there were pressures on the job. Emmitt Thomas (his defensive coordinator) was constantly on me pushing me to be better because he saw more in me than I was putting out, to be honest.

“Overall, I didn’t have any outlets, and so I began to drink a little more than I needed to, and that quickly spiraled down into depression. I went through a real dark, deep depression. Alcohol was a tremendous crutch. There were times I didn’t even want to be around my family, didn’t want to be around my son.

“I just wanted to be in a dark room by myself with nobody. My room, I won’t say was a frequent occurrence, but it was something I would do. My faith back then wasn’t that strong, so I listened to the other voice in my head, and that’s where suicidal thoughts came in, and then actually planning out how I would go about it in such a way that Connie (his wife) and my son would get the money from my insurance policy.”

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Brian Dawkins through his NFL career
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Brian Dawkins through his NFL career
24 Nov 1996: Defensive back Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles tackles wide receiver Frank Sanders of the Arizona Cardinals during a game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. The Cardinals won the game 36-30.
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 7: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action during a game against the Carolina Panthers at Ericsson Stadium on November 7, 1999 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the Eagles 33-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
27 Jan 2002 : Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Championship Game against the St.Louis Rams at the Dome at the America's Center in St.Louis, Missouri. The Rams advance to the Superbowl after winning 29-24. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
MIAMI - DECEMBER 15: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after making an interception against the Miami Dolphins December 15, 2003 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 24, 2004: Defensive back Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks towards the sidelines during a game with the Cleveland Browns on October 24, 2004 at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Philadelphia won 34-31 in overtime. Brian Dawkins04-1220386 (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 5: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field on December 5, 2004 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Packers 47-17. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - 2005: Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles poses for his 2005 NFL headshot at photo day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after catching an interception pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter during the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia. (photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles lifts the George Halas trophy as teammate Terrell Owens #31 smiles after the Eagles won the NFC Championship game 27-10 over the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons during the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Falcons 27-10. (Photo by Bernie Nunez/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles shows emotion on the field during the game against the San Diego Chargers at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Chargers 20-17.(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 20: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles watches the Giants offense on November 20, 2005 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The New York Giants defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 08: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles leads a prayer circle after a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on October 8, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 29: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles enters the stadium during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 29, 2006 at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Jaguars defeated the Eagles 13-6. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 10: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 and offensive line coach Juan Castillo of the Philadelphia Eagles stand on the sideline during the game against the Washington Redskins on December 10, 2006 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The Eagles defeated the Redskins 21-19. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
IRVING, TX - DECEMBER 25: Wide receiver Terrell Owens #81 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles made a pass interception on December 25, 2006 at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 9: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks toward the sideline before the game against the Green Bay Packers on September 9, 2007 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers won 16-13. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 18: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on during the NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Lincoln Financial Field on November 18, 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 2: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles leads a group of Seattle Seahawks players in prayer following their game on December 2, 2007 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Seahawks defeated the Eagles 28-24. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles waits in the tunnel before entering the field during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 21, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles 15-6. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles drops into pass coverage during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 21, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 15-6. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 27: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs back an interception during a game against the Arizona Cardinals on November 27, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 48-20. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
15 Dec 2008: Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins #20 before the game against the Cleveland Browns on December 15th, 2008. The Eagles won 30-10 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 30: Brian Dawkins speaks about being named a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award during a press conference prior to Super Bowl XLIII held at the Tampa Convention Center on January 30, 2009 in Tampa, Florida. Dawkins is one of three finalists for the award. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DENVER - 2009: Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by NFL Photos)
DENVER - OCTOBER 04: Brian Dawkins #20 and Renaldo Hill #23 of the Denver Broncos celebrate after the Dallas Cowboys on fourth down with :01 second remaining in the game during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 4, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Cowboys 17-10. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(CM) BRONCOSGIANTS4Q_cm Denver Broncos defeated New York Giants 26-6 on Thursday, November 26, 2009 at Invesco Field Action after the game as #20 Brian Dawkins pumps his fist as the team walks off the field. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 03: Renaldo Hill #23 and Brian Dawkins #20 of the Denver Broncos against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 3, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. Denver won 26-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 17: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Denver Broncos takes the field during player intoductions at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 03: NFL players Leonard Weaver and Brian Dawkins attend the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration 2012 at Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University on February 3, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Super Bowl)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 18: Injured safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Denver Broncos reacts on the field during a break in the action against the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bears 13-10 in overtime. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 30: Former player Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles is honored for his retirement during the game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on September 30, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Eagles won 19-17. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Former player and current Philadelphia Eagles scout Brian Dawkins walks on the field prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Vikings 21-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 03: Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer and Ray Lewis selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame at NFL Honors during Super Bowl LII week on February 3, 2018, at Northrop at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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‘The pain was tremendous’

It was his wife, Connie, and Thomas who nudged Dawkins to get help, and eventually he began seeing a therapist and taking medication for depression. They helped, but Dawkins ultimately needed something more.

“The pain I was feeling was tremendous,” Dawkins said. “But then, I found a way to control it. I rededicated my life. Being able to deal with that through my renewed faith. Going to more and more bible studies. Giving my life over to the Lord, completely helped me go on to become the athlete I became and the person I became.”

Dawkins continues to lean heavily on his faith, he said, to help him push aside those times when he’s feeling sorry for himself.

Rare safety in the Hall of Fame

Just the ninth career safety to be selected for the Hall (others, like Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson, began their careers as cornerbacks and shifted to safety), Dawkins was a nine-time Pro Bowler and was chosen first-team All-Pro five times.

He spent the final three years of his career with the Broncos.

The Class of 2018 Enshrinement Ceremony takes place on Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio.

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