NFL star opens up about mental health battles

Black History Month

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a reason they call him “The Maniac.”  Even for an NFL player, Darius Leonard is high energy.  The Indianapolis Colts linebacker is a highly paid all-pro athlete. 

“Everybody only sees the happy part of me, see me dancing, having a good time enjoying my family, but behind closed doors, things are not what people make it seem to be,” said Leonard.

Darius Leonard has, maybe surprisingly, become the face of the Colts “Kicking the Stigma” campaign.  It’s the team’s effort to raise awareness about mental health.  Leonard has used his own painful experience as an example of how many people just suffer in silence.  He came forward about his bouts of depression and anxiety that were triggered after his brother was killed in a nightclub fight when they were teenagers.  He sought counseling after suffering for years.

 “I was once that kid who didn’t have anything. I was once that kid who felt his back was against the wall and no one was there for him,” said Leonard.

The Colts asked Leonard to share his mental health journey in a series of “Kicking the Stigma” public service announcements aired on national TV.  He admits he seems like an unlikely spokesman.

“Going through all the adversity I’ve been through, being the top level linebacker I am, people think I’m living in high heaven, which is not true.  Just going through depression  and the other things people go through,” said Leonard.

Leonard is also among the most active Colts in the Indianapolis community.  It gives him many opportunities to share his mental health story with fans young and old.  The Colts ownership says they couldn’t have found a better ambassador to spread their message.

“I think people in that role of being a role model, especially a football player, you’re tough , you’re on the field and especially him.  He’s happy go lucky and such a positive light and yet he has those personal struggles,” said co-owner Kalen Irsay-Jackson.

The rest of the Colts have embraced the team’s mission of kicking the stigma.  Leonard says even some of his teammates have been surprised to hear his struggle and his honesty about it.  The Colts linebacker has not only reached them with his message, he’s reached countless others who otherwise would have suffered just like he did.

 “You’re not trying to reach everybody.  You just try to reach that one person who says ‘I’m having that same problem as your role model’ and if your role model can step up and say I need help, you can do the same thing,” added Leonard.

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