Buffalo’s Brandon Robinson Launches Goals for Mental Health Initiative
December 6, 2023By: Anna Taylor
Editor’s Note: Please be advised there are mentions of suicide in this story
NLL players are on pace to score, collectively, 2,640 goals this season, and that’s music to Brandon Robinson’s ears.
The Buffalo Bandits defenseman has teamed up with Morgan’s Message to raise funds and awareness about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention in student athletes under the banner “Goals for Mental Health.”
Robinson will donate $1.00 (US) to Morgan’s Message for every goal scored in the League this season.
“It was funny watching the games this weekend; my parents and brothers kept joking ‘There’s another goal! There’s another goal!’ Robinson laughed. “I want to see the most money raised as possible, obviously, that’s the point of a fundraiser. But for me it’s the message getting out and the awareness. If there are 3,000 or 5,000 goals scored, it doesn’t matter. If people are talking about their mental health and are creating positive change and positive conversations around it, that’s the main goal for me.”
Morgan’s Message was created by the family of Morgan Rodgers, a Division 1 lacrosse player at Duke University who took her own life in 2019. She was only 22 years old, and committed suicide after battling anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation after suffering a devastating knee injury. You can read more about Morgan’s story here.
“It’s a great initiative by her family to use something very tragic and turn it into something positive by sharing her story. Even if they help one other person that’s a win for them and that’s the mindset I have towards it too,” Robinson explained.
Robinson relates to Morgan’s story and wants to be part of the solution. For this article, what started out as a conversation regarding a fundraising initiative turned into an honest conversation about Robinson’s own mental health.
“It’s about finding ways to teach teenagers and young adults the things they go through and feel are natural and okay and normal. I’ve started to see for myself which is why I’m taking that next step and doing the fundraiser and speaking about it publicly,” said Robinson.
Talking about mental health is difficult for anyone, but perhaps most difficult for professional athletes – especially men – who are expected to be pinnacles of strength and health. Being open about what some perceive as a “weakness” is seen to cast shame onto these athletes, and makes them prone to hide their feelings. But that’s what Morgan did, and Robinson doesn’t want that to happen to anyone else. Mental health needs to be respected as much as physical health.
(Struggling with one’s mental health is NOT a weakness, by the way – 57.8 million Americans suffer from mental health issues – professional athletes are not an exception.)
“If you break a bone, you see it on a scan. You can see that broken bone. If you tear a ligament, you get an MRI and see the tear and there’s a protocol and a rehab process for it. Same with any other sicknesses that you can see,” Robinson emphasized. “Whereas with mental health, it’s so different for every person. What someone else goes through, how they feel and react to it, you can’t just see it on a scan.”
Physical ailments require rehabilitation. So do mental ailments, which means that opening up about your feelings is a necessary step to healing.
“When you break a bone you’re not just sitting at home for 4-6 weeks doing nothing,” Robinson said. “You’re out doing rehab, you still go to work, you take care of your family, you still go to class.”
Robinson is a passionate proponent of reaching out to loved ones to help with struggles.
“You don’t have to go public; you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. That’s not the idea behind it. I still struggle and get uncomfortable talking about it sometimes. But the more I talk about it with other people, [the more I learn] a lot about some of my closest friends that I’ve had for 10-15 years that I didn’t know anything about, things they went through because they kept to themselves.
“Most people are willing to help others before they’re willing to help themselves. If my family came to me and said ‘I’m struggling with x,y and z,’ I’d say ‘how can I help?’ But we don’t do that for ourselves. We’re our own worst critics. I think treating yourself how you would treat a loved one, being selfish sometimes and doing what’s best for you is okay.”
It took him a while to get to the point he was comfortable sharing his story, though. He said it came to a head while the NLL was shut down because of the pandemic.
“For me that was the hardest part and when I really noticed things and had to come to terms with that I wasn’t doing great mentally and that I had hidden a lot of things behind being an athlete,” he said. “Part of the stigma for me was that I couldn’t work on my mental health and play sports at the same time. I had to take time away from sports to figure it out. Until I did, I couldn’t play and that’s not the case. It should be about finding a way to do both.”
After his reckoning, Robinson found ways to dig himself out of the mental hole he was in.
“I isolated myself a little bit from my family and friends when I was really going through it and not doing well, so I try not to do that anymore and am making up for the lost time when I separated myself from them for a couple of years,” he said. “Sports is a big one for me. Getting out and moving around. Creating a routine and creating good habits rather than bad habits. Finding things you’re passionate about and a reason to keep pushing forward. For me right now it’s this fundraiser and playing lacrosse and coaching. I have things to look forward to every day which get me out of bed even on the tough days.”
The fundraiser is just the beginning.
Robinson started his own company a few years ago, and coaches kids from ages 7-15, as well as those ages 16-21 with the Jr. A Oakville Buzz.
Mental health is a topic he hopes to breach with his players in the future, to not only help those kids as individuals but to help them become stronger teammates, too.
“I hope any kid I coach, if they come across an article or this fundraiser and they need help, I hope it gives them both comfort and the confidence to know that they can come to me. In team sports [mental health issues are] looked at it in a weird way because it’s all about the team, but there’s a fine line between doing what’s best for the team and doing what’s best for the team at the expense of your own health. They talk about mental toughness. There’s a difference between mental toughness and mental health.
“For me that’s the stigma and that’s one of the things I want to create conversation around, in how we can move forward. If it was easy this would have been solved but like all things change takes time and it takes having uncomfortable conversations. Whether it’s now, 10 years, 15, 20 years down the road, if they ever need anything they can reach out to me and I’ll be there to listen and talk to them.”
The reaction to Goals for Mental Health has been overwhelmingly positive. Robinson doesn’t have social media himself and isn’t big on publicity and putting himself out there.
“I’m getting out of my comfort zone doing this stuff. I didn’t really know what to expect and its pretty humbling to have so many people reaching out and coming on board.”
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