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 Article of Interest - Depression

Commentary: Mike Lopresti
Bradshaw, Williams Confront Depression
May 6, 2003,
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The man on the telephone has four Super Bowl rings, a television name . . . and a lifetime of living with depression.

"Nobody," Terry Bradshaw was saying, "likes talking about what a mess they are."

No. Old quarterbacks are supposed to talk of yesterday's touchdowns. His passes, after all, gave wind to the Pittsburgh Steeler dynasty.

Bradshaw is here to talk of the time he couldn't stop crying on a football field . . . the day he had to be carried off an airplane . . . the blackout just before a Super Bowl telecast . . . the spending binges on horses and cars and women . . . the three divorces . . .

"All products of depression," he said.

"Football I could take. Three hours of focus. The rest of my life has been hell in a handbasket."

Bradshaw is taking his ordeal public these days, sponsored by the company whose Paxil drug has rebooted his life.

He is paired with Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams -- leading rusher in the NFL last year, and a victim of a social anxiety disorder so powerful, he once was afraid to go to the grocery store.

Millions of Americans know the feeling. Many are men (talked about less). Some are professional athletes (talked about least).

"In our industry," Bradshaw said, "people don't want to know about these disorders. Athletes don't want to have to deal with it. We're supposed to deal with physical pain."

Williams can recount years of wondering why he was too fearful of the neighbors to go out for the mail, and so intimidated by the media he conducted interviews wearing his helmet.

Bradshaw recalls Super Bowl victories that could not be appreciated or enjoyed. Not the second they were over, because depression was waiting in the locker room.

"Hated 'em," he said. "Got no joy out of playing in 'em. There was always the fear of what could happen if we lost the next one. What would they say about me? I never wanted that burden."

Five years ago, with another marriage gone -- "Rock bottom," he called it -- Bradshaw finally looked for professional help. Found it. Started treatment. Got better.

So did Williams, who was a New Orleans Saint when he disclosed his ailment, to a pro football culture more comfortable with ACL tears.

Not long after, according to Williams, he was called into the coach's office. "What the hell is this?" Jim Haslett said.

"I had no friends in football," Bradshaw said. "I attributed it to the fact I was different. It's the Hasletts of the world that keep people like us from coming out. It's macho-man stuff."

Bradshaw knows what has happened lately to two other macho men.

Barret Robbins was center for the Oakland Raiders, who disappeared just before this year's Super Bowl, his bipolar condition aflame when he stopped taking his medication and started drinking.

"He's a wonderful young man who made a horrible mistake," Bradshaw said. "You'd better know you have a problem."

Mike Webster was a Hall of Fame center who snapped thousands of footballs into the hands of Terry Bradshaw.

Webster was the first of those championship Steelers to die last year, tormented to the end by physical and mental fiends.

"I don't think there are enough of us rallying to support people like Mike Webster," Bradshaw said. "We'll support a guy who beats up his wife or a guy who has three visits to the drug factory and gets caught. But mental disease seems worse."

So two successful men spend spring at the microphone, sending their messages to those too frightened to open the door at home, or see only darkness on the sunniest days. Those who suffer in silence, as they once did.

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