GREEN BAY, Wis. – When four-time Grand Slam single’s champion and No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open citing “social anxiety” and “long bouts of depression,” legendary Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler offered to lend an ear.
“When I was talking to my wife, I said, ‘I know exactly how she’s feeling,’” Butler told Clark Judge of SI.com’s Talk of Fame Network.
“What she did makes her a real hero to me,” he added.
Butler, the only offensive or defensive player on the NFL’s all-1990s team to not be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has grappled with anxiety, as well. An elevator struck more fear in Butler than any running back.
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“I used to freak out when we played in Minnesota because we stayed in a (hotel) where you had to use the elevator,” Butler said. “My palms would get sweaty, and I’d be like, ‘Where are the stairs?’ It’s almost like a panic attack.
“I would talk to (former teammate and Hall of Fame defensive end) Reggie White about it, and he’s the only guy I’d get on an elevator with. I just felt an emotional connection with him. I know when he saw my face, he knew this is real.
"I thought when the doors closed I wouldn’t be able to breathe, but he would distract me. He’d say, ‘You think this is bad? Jesus had it worse.’ The humor would distract me. Then, all of a sudden, the doors would open.
“My daughter used to see if there was a cutout in the ceiling so that I could get out. So I’d look. But still, to this day, I try to avoid elevators. If it’s six, seven, eight floors, I don’t care. I’ll say, ‘I’m taking the stairs.’ “