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NFL spotlight, plus mental-health issues, can be dangerous combination

Detroit Free Press - 12/24/2018

Dec. 22--Half a decade later, I still remember the somber conversation I had with Titus Young's father, Richard. And it still makes me sad.

It was 2012 and I was at the Lions' headquarters in Allen Park. I wanted privacy, so I went to the parking lot, got inside my car and closed the door.

I told Richard Young I wasn't speaking with him as a reporter. I wasn't writing an article about Titus. We were just talking human-to-human. I wanted to share with him what I had observed about his son after interacting with him on a regular basis for almost two years.

I told him I thought Titus had bipolar disorder.

I told Richard Young that I had observed very similar behavior in one of my relatives who had been diagnosed as bipolar several years earlier. The National Institute of Mental Health describes bipolar as a "manic-depressive illness" and "a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood."

I wasn't positive Titus was bipolar, but I told Richard Young it seemed his son clearly had mental-health issues. I urged him to help Titus seek treatment, either with the help of the Lions or elsewhere because the issue was much larger than Titus' NFL career. It was about saving Titus' life.

Richard Young thanked me for my concern and, without confirming or disagreeing with anything I said, he assured me things would work out for his son.

But they didn't. The Lions cut Young after the 2012 season and his behavior soon put him in a spiral back home in California. He was charged with assault and had a long string of run-ins with the law. He has since attributed his behavioral problems to bipolar disorder, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Having bipolar has pretty much torn down my life," Young wrote in a diary he kept while serving nearly 20 months in a California prison. "It's been four years of fighting so many different behaviors."

Titus Young was released Saturday from a California health care facility after serving nearly 20 months in the state's prison system.

Richard Young might not have believed me five years ago. Or he might not have wanted to. Maybe it seemed too much to risk his son's NFL career at the time. I can't fault him for thinking that or maybe not even understanding his son's mental issues. I've dealt with several cases of mental-health issues in my family and they're never easy to understand or simple to treat.

Just look at Josh Gordon. Everyone has an opinion but there's little consensus and even less understanding about the New England Patriots receiver's situation, which also involves substance abuse.

I feel a strong sense of pity for athletes like Gordon and Titus Young, who have to deal with the incredible challenges of mental-health problems while trying to survive in the harsh and sometimes ruthless world of the NFL.

What I can tell you about my experience with mental disease is that it's unlike any other illness or injury. It often doesn't have one name. It isn't obvious, it isn't easily detected or diagnosed and it isn't simple to treat. It's a moving target you don't cure with one dose of the right medicine. It's not a strain or a tear with a predicable recovery timetable. It demands patience, support and understanding -- an even then it's an uphill battle.

My heart goes out to people like Titus Young and Josh Gordon who fight this battle very publicly in the high-pressured world of professional sports.

I've been Lionized

On Tuesday, I wrote that after 13 seasons of covering the Lions it finally happened. I became Lionized. I finally gained a full understanding of fans' frustrations for the past 60 years.

I was flooded with sympathetic emails from readers. It's one of the strongest responses I've gotten for a column.

Unfortunately, I couldn't respond to every email. But I did read all of them and I sincerely appreciate everyone sharing their stories of grief. Here are some of my favorites.

John P: "I wanted to thank you for article on how the Lions are wearing you out. You have had to endure 13 seasons, try 60. Something is not right with this organization."

Russ K: "First off, welcome to my world, lifelong fan here; I feel your pain and have for decades."

Michael C: "This is a first. In 80 years I have never sent a note, letter, text or email to anyone in politics or sports. I respected them and myself too much to sink to that level of 'fan.' However this city and this sports franchise have finally done it ... causing me to react."

My Lionized rating: 0-16/10. My Lionized spirit animal: Rod Marinelli talking about the invisible.

Mascot mayhem

I love sports mascots, especially the fun and clever ones. Before ESPN existed, I grew up watching the syndicated show "This Week In Baseball" on Saturday mornings. The segment I most looked forward to featured the antics of the San Diego Chicken, who is the Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady of mascots.

This year's best mascot moment belongs to Tommy Hawk, the Chicago Blackhawks mascot who got into an actual fight with a fan at the United Center after Friday night's game against Winnipeg. What's incredible about the incident is that it's captured on video -- and that no one tries to stop it.

Tommy body slammed the man who attacked him and seemed to get the better of the ordeal. The Chicago Tribune reported Tommy was back at work Sunday.

Could be time for the Red Wings to get a mascot (sorry, Al the Octopus doesn't count). According to the Hockey News, the Wings are the only NHL team that doesn't have a mascot with a human operator.

Tommy Hawk's rating: 12/10. Tommy Hawk's spirt animal: Darren McCarty.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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(c)2018 Detroit Free Press

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