Dave Spadaro: High hopes for Brooks

The Eagles’ Brandon Brooks opened up about his anxiety: he’s “in a much better place now.”

Brandon Brooks is a huge man, extremely talented and driven to be the best in his field. He’s an offensive guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, as nice a guy off the field as you’ll ever meet, bright, articulate and aware of the big world around him.

On the field, he’s a nasty dude, throwing his 6-foot-5, 335-pound body into the mass of humanity that is the line of scrimmage in the NFL with controlled abandon. Pain is part of his game. Power is essential. Courage is innate.

So it was unusual, to say the least, when Brooks twice last season was paralyzed by anxiety on the day of games to the point where he just couldn’t suit up. Couldn’t play. Couldn’t shake the grip of anxiety and the nausea of the moment.

“It was anxiety caused by the expectations I’ve created for myself to be perfect on the football field,” Brooks says now, seated in his NovaCare Complex locker room. “It was very difficult to accept. But I think my first step was to understand what was happening and then to do something about it.”

Brooks says he is “in a much better place now” in his second season as an Eagle. The anxiety that he felt on the morning of games against Green Bay and Washington are gone. He has new confidence. He is a new man. Seeking and accepting therapy has made such a difference that Brooks thinks that he has a new lease on his football life.

“I am,” he says, “more comfortable in my own skin.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million people aged 18 and older (18 percent of the population in the United States) are affected by anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those impacted seek help.

Brooks wanted to be a better man. He wants to be a great football player. And he realized that his diagnosis showed no favoritism. He could have been 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds and it would have been the same: Football or no football, he needed help.

“I think we’re always evolving as people and we want to be better and we want to be confident in what we’re doing, no matter what that is,” Brooks said. “I’m not special because I’m a football player. I’m no different than anyone else.

“From the time I started playing the game, I wanted to be the best. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on you. It’s impossible to live up to the standard of perfection. Where I sit today is a lot different than the way I was feeling last season. I am confident in my abilities. I know I’m not going to be perfect. Mistakes are going to happen. That’s just the nature of the game.”

By going public last year, and having his admission broadcast so freely from the massive NFL platform, Brooks hopes he’s helped others facing the same challenge. He hopes others have taken the steps to seek treatment and release their minds and bodies from a disorder that produces feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness as well as debilitating muscle tension and pain.

“I feel free now,” he said. “In turn, that’s going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t about courage or anything like that for me. It was just a matter of wanting to feel better. I encourage anyone who feels that way to seek help. It’s worked for me. I feel like a new man. Now I can truly go out there and do what I love to do, and that’s play football.” ••