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In brutal NFL week, Bears' Marshall shows power of self-awareness

We don't need to go into everything awful that happened in the NFL this week, from Ray Rice to Roger Goodell to Greg Hardy to Ray McDonald, do we? No? Good. But at the end of that horrible week, where the only reasonable upside was an increasing and necessary focus on the league's cavalier attitude toward domestic violence, it was interesting and fitting that Bears receiver Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes and was the difference in Chicago's 28-20 comeback win over the 49ers at the opener of San Francisco's new stadium in... Santa Clara. Because in a week where the primary subject was a lack of caring for others and for one's self, Marshall has shown in his own career what can happen when self-awareness takes the day.

Marshall, who has been arrested twice on domestic violence charges (acquitted once, charges dropped once), has been unusually remorseful about his past transgressions, and unusually public regarding his search for help to solve his own psychological issues. He was suspended three games in 2008 for violations of the league's personal conduct policy (the suspension was later reduced to one game and a fine), and he's been very open about his struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder.

“For me, it’s a very personal perspective. I come from an environment where it wasn’t the family that prayed together stayed together,” Marshall said on a recent edition of Inside the NFL. “It was the family that fought against each other stayed together. I saw women as the aggressors, I saw men as the aggressors and I think the first half of my career really painted the picture of me being a product of my environment so I’m just thankful that now I’m in a position where I can take my story and tell these guys, ‘Just listen man, you don’t have to be a product of your environment, and that is the wrong path.’”

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Marshall had been involved in damaging behavior all the way back to his time at the University of Central Florida and through his tenures with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. In an  2011 incident, when Marshall was with the Dolphins, his wife, Michi Nogami-Marshall, was charged with aggravated battery for stabbing him in the abdomen. Charges were later dropped.

Inspired by a conversation with then-teammate Ricky Williams, Marshall underwent three months of psychological and neurological exams at Boston's McLean Hospital. That was the start.

Diagnosed with BPD in 2011, Marshall immediately became interested in taking on the role of a spokesperson, seemingly intent on proving that he wasn't presenting the diagnosis as an excuse for his prior actions. It was more accurate to say that Marshall was relieved to finally find, and put a name to, the demons in his head.

"Project Borderline is my foundation -- well, the Brandon Marshall Foundation is the foundation -- but Project Borderline is something we've set up to bridge the gap between clinicians and patients and family members," Marshall told me in a November 2012 interview. "To break the stigmas and educate, and also to advocate for so many out there suffering. Borderline Personality Disorder affects everyone across the spectrum -- it doesn't matter if you're black or white, male or female, rich or poor. We're affected by it. If it's not us as patients, it could be family members or someone in the community.

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"It's said that one out every five people walk around with some sort of mental disorder we may suffer from. So, when you look at those numbers, which are staggering, it's kind of scary. It's still a taboo topic in our homes, our schools and our communities. That's what we want to do. We want to make it an everyday topic at our dinner tables and an everyday conversation in government, and we're going to do this until that happens."

Of course, the NFL in its infinite wisdom has actually fined Marshall for his stand and for his interest in helping others. Last October, he was docked $10,500 for a uniform violation ... because during the NFL's pink ribbon campaign to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Marshall dared to wear green cleats to support Mental Health Awareness Week. Marshall's plan was to match the fine, and to donate it to his preferred charity. 

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"I'm going to get fined and I'm going to match that, and we want to partner with a cancer-care [charity]," Marshall said before the game against the Giants in which he wore the cleats. "We're still working on the details to give, really give back to an organization that is doing work in the mental health area. [Also], the diagnosis of breast cancer can hit families hard. It affects all of us."

Marshall didn't practice this week -- he was struggling with an ankle injury, and there were questions as to whether he would even play. But he did, grabbing touchdown after touchdown from Jay Cutler over the unfortunate head of 49ers rookie safety Jimmie Ward. In the grand scheme of things, doing what he did on Sunday night was a relatively easy challenge. Marshall has been through a great deal more, and has come out a winner.

"By no means am I all healed or fixed, but it's like a light bulb has been turned on in my dark room."

Marshall said that in 2011. And at the end of this terrible week, his honesty and success has turned on a necessary light bulb and provided hope for everyone who knows his story, and for everyone who has become sick and tired of the way the NFL has handled other issues of importance. 

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