NEW YORK -- Brandon Marshall was almost traded to the New York Jets in 2009, and again in 2010. Did you know that? Probably not. Looking back, he's glad he wasn't. He doesn't believe he was emotionally ready for Gotham. Instead of the Dark Knight, he fears there would've been too many dark nights.
Oh, it was tempting. No longer wanted by the Denver Broncos, who got tired of his diva act and put him on the trading block, Marshall had a choice of the Jets and Miami Dolphins. He remembers an April 2010 phone call from Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum, the former Jets coach and general manager, respectively. They tried to sell him on the Jets, but they were offering only $12 million guaranteed and the Dolphins were at $24 million.
"I really believe God took me to Miami to show me where I was struggling and my weaknesses," Marshall was saying Tuesday night in Manhattan. "All that stuff happened there. Got the help I needed. Spent three months at McLean Hospital (in Boston) in an outpatient program."
Marshall was referring to his 2011 diagnosis for borderline personality disorder, a mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior and relationships. Prior to the that, he was known for his volatile personality, resulting in no fewer than eight domestic disputes and four arrests between 2006 and 2011.
Instead of keeping quiet, making it a personal battle against BPD, Marshall has spent the past five years trying to make himself the face of the illness. It takes courage. Think about it: This is a 6-foot-4, 230-pound world-class athlete telling the world, loudly, his brain isn't wired properly -- and he's not ashamed of it. His life's work is to reduce the stigma and raise awareness of mental illness, and he's doing it through his foundation, Project 375.
"It takes a lot of guts to be involved in that charity and admit what he's going through," former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. "As an old scout, you dream about finding a guy like that."
Accorsi and Marshall were brought together Tuesday night by the National Football Foundation, which honored Marshall with its Ernie Accorsi Humanitarian Award. The Jets wide receiver was feted at the swanky New York Athletic Club, one of the stately addresses on Central Park South. In a big room filled with mahogany walls and chandeliers, Marshall posed for pictures with top high-school athletes in the area, schmoozed with corporate types and, later, told his story upon receiving the award from Accorsi.
"We feel like this is the last stigma in our country," Marshall said before the dinner, alluding to mental illness. "When you look at what our country has been through, we're a fairly young country, but we're so behind in the way we approach mental health. It's disgusting, to be honest. ... We're working hard to break down the stigma. Where we are today is where the cancer and HIV community was 20, 25 years ago."
In some ways, this night marked the pinnacle of Marshall's crusade. There he was, in the heart of New York, speaking to a rapt audience about his life's mission. He truly believes he's in the right place at the right time, that his mistakes in Denver, Miami and Chicago prepared him for this moment in his career -- in his life.
"I didn't handle every situation right (in Chicago)," said Marshall, who played with the Bears from 2012 to 2014. "I didn't know how to deal with the media. I sat back and reflected and self-assessed and now I'm here. I always say football is my platform, not my purpose."
Perhaps ironically, on one of his best days, Marshall relived one of his worst.
Marshall spent the day downtown in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, surrounded by lawyers in courtroom 11A, the honorable Judge George B. Daniels presiding. For the better part of seven hours, Marshall was back to March 11, 2012, the night he allegedly assaulted a woman outside a Manhattan nightclub. Christin Myles, 28, of California, sobbed on the witness stand, accusing him of punching her in the left eye during a sidewalk melee.
"I want justice," she told the judge and 12-person jury.
She also wants unspecified damages. It's a civil trial, expected to last a few days. There never was a criminal proceeding because authorities in 2012 determined there wasn't enough evidence to file charges.
The alleged incident occurred eight months after Marshall went public with his diagnosis. Since then, he has stayed out of trouble, trying hard to change his image. That the trial began on the same day he was honored for humanitarianism was a case of lousy timing, certainly a bad optic.
"Interesting" was how Jets coach Todd Bowles described the coincidence, proceeding to praise Marshall for his character and willingness to fight against mental illness.
"You can't help but marvel at what he's done," said Bowles, who attended the awards dinner.
You could say the juxtaposition of downtown assault trial/midtown lovefest painted Marshall as the ultimate enigma -- Old Brandon versus New Brandon, all in one day. That's a reach. If the jury determines that he inflicted harm on Myles, he should pay the price. But that was four years ago, a different time in his life. He's trying to be a better person and he's trying to improve the lives of others. It doesn't mean we should forget the past, but it doesn't have to define him.
"Any time I get an opportunity to use this platform and use my good stories and bad stories to inspire kids, I'm always going to take advantage of that," he said.
It was 7:30 p.m. at the New York Athletic Club. Less than three hours earlier, he walked out of courtroom 11A, declining to discuss the trial. There wasn't enough time for a wardrobe change. He showed up for his big night wearing the same dark navy pinstriped suit he wore in court.
Except with a different colored tie.