INDIANAPOLIS – It took Darius Leonard two months to get above the reduction in Jacksonville, and even longer to locate himself once more.
The Colts’ All-Pro linebacker didn’t experience proper when past period finished. Not bodily, with an ankle that operation just could not recover not mentally, with the reduction of a cousin and the sickness gripping his father and sister and tugging on his heart.
For weeks past winter season, his family members essential him as a job stored him hundreds of miles absent. But that occupation was these kinds of a general public failure down the stretch that the minute he had time on his facet, he did not know what to do with it. Disgrace awaited him back again home, with concerns about what happened on that field in Jacksonville.
“I question everyone how they are executing. Sometimes it’s Ok to question me how I’m accomplishing,” Leonard stated. “Never inquire me just to request me. Check with me to actually have a conversation with me and to understand that I’m a human, as well. I have troubles. I go via matters that a large amount of persons are heading by way of.”
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It is ironic that a star in America’s most common activity, a guy with 300,000 followers between Twitter and Instagram and the star of the weekly HBO sequence “Tough Knocks” can feel so misunderstood. Soccer begins as the automobile to results. Then it gets the façade, with each individual sack dance and Instagram filter pulling the curtains tighter until eventually it leaves him in the darkish.
Leonard started to slip close to Christmastime. He was the NFL’s leader in turnovers, proudly stating his circumstance for Defensive Participant of the Yr, with a team in playoff rivalry. But the ankle kept him in suffering, with a late bye week way too very little to mend it and a mounting pressure to be out there every participate in. Then he contracted COVID-19, and the Colts performed a video game without having him. He was not with them and he wasn’t with loved ones, just isolated in Indianapolis, hoping anyone could be Ok without him.
The Colts were being Ok that night, toppling the Cardinals on national Tv set to get to 9-6. They all obtained their Christmases the following working day, and euphoria rifled via the crew.
“When we went down to the Cardinals and gained that sport on Christmas evening, I felt like that was our Super Bowl. A whole lot of people noticed it as our Super Bowl, and we felt invincible,” Leonard mentioned.
“Last 12 months, I was not in the ideal mental place to keep most people accountable. I felt like I enable the team down in that aspect in the past two online games.”
The closing two weeks ended up the excellent storm of bodily and emotional soreness. The ankle seared, the performance slipped and the criticism stung within.
The player they call the Maniac, the trash-conversing ball of power who makes turnovers with a forceful punch was suddenly the one in require of inspiration But the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder could not dare demonstrate it for the reason that he had a standard to sustain, a façade, designed only by way of the lens of a video game.
“In this profession, at times you experience like you really do not have a say so in your own daily life just because it’s all soccer, all soccer,” Leonard mentioned. “When you sense like you have to hold a shade up on your personal lifestyle due to the fact of your football existence, it eats you up.
“I fell out of like with the recreation. I was not experiencing it any more.”
This is the tale of a youthful guy who soared greater and faster than any one knew was achievable, from a single moment starting for South Carolina Point out towards Bethune-Cookman to racking up 15 tackles in his next NFL video game and acquiring a sea of microphones and cameras shoved in his confront to answer a person essential question: Who is this child?
But the concerns weren’t about the child, not genuinely, for the reason that beneath the shoulder pads and the helmet with the horseshoe on it is another soccer participant with bulging muscle mass and piping athleticism. He is a gladiator. How could he fail if he was a star when he arrived?
For Leonard, and for so numerous many others, the past two many years have been about adapting to a decline of handle. A pandemic compelled individuals to think about life devoid of the sections that make them sense very good, from sporting activities to the comfort of the people today close to them. What is still left in that instant is what will have to carry on.
Which is the place Leonard discovered himself in the second the seconds ran off the clock in Jacksonville. Crouched down on 1 knee, the tears flowed, and only he realized how a lot larger they were being than any a person football match. Who was he now to the spouse and children associates he experienced to continue to be away from for this sport, to the children he preferred to deliver pleasure?
Soon after that video game, he questioned his teammates to enable the 26-11 humiliation to “burn as a result of our hearts.” He implored them to do no matter what needed this offseason to rediscover the ideal variations of on their own. For Leonard, that meant correcting the person within.
So, he did not get surgery on that ankle once more. He failed to consider about football for two months. The Colts were employing new coaches, and they had been having difficulties to get ahold of him. That element of himself could hold out.
Darius the football player was still in a excellent put, age 26, a three-time All-Professional on a five-yr deal producing practically $20 million a calendar year. Darius the human currently being needed his consideration.
He sat down and wrote a letter. Then he browse it aloud on May 1, the very first working day of Psychological Wellness Recognition Month.
“Expensive mental wellness: 1st off, I would like to say that you are just one tough person to combat,” he wrote. “But just about every working day, I go on to struggle. Just about every working day, I continue on to go to war. And every single day, I go on to gain this struggle towards you.”
He wrote down the place the fight began: With a mom doing work two work opportunities to help nine children, with two brothers in jail and yet another a person murdered. All those odds produced reaching the NFL incredulous.
After he did, a game grew to become a measuring adhere of self-well worth. When he finally expert failure in it, he experienced to reconsider the overall health of this sort of a proposition, as properly as the function.
The recreation, for all its highs and lows, is a motor vehicle to all the locations his mother and siblings couldn’t go.
Now, Leonard is on the lookout for joy in the journey, in all its twists and turns.
He is letting the curtain fall.
“Mental wellness,” he wrote in the letter, “You will not defeat me.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts: Offseason was about psychological health and fitness for Darius Leonard