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Chicago Tribune | Chicago Sports | Section 3 | Sunday, June 24, 2012

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Chicago Tribune | Chicago Sports | Section 3 | Sunday, June 24, 2012

UNDERSTANDING BRANDON MARSHALL

‘There’s only one person that you have to answer to, and that’s God’ His life, in short March 23, 1984: Brandon Tyrone Marshall is born in Pittsburgh to 21-yearold Freddie Marshall and 19-year-old Diane Bolden, Freddie’s high school sweetheart. April 24, 1987: While serving a workrelease jail sentence after a conviction for smashing a woman in the face with a beer bottle, Freddie marries Diane. Nov. 20, 1987: Diane is granted a protection order against Freddie. Records indicate it is the first of three she will file against her husband. In total, the women in Freddie’s life are granted protection orders at least six times. April 17, 1990: Freddie files for divorce, but Brandon’s parents stay together. Freddie files again on July 10, 1995. Sept. 25, 1991: Police find 12 balloons of heroin and a calculator in the truck Freddie is driving. Charges are later dismissed. 1993-1994: In fourth grade, Brandon moves to Florida with his dad and his brother Fred Jr. His mother moves to Georgia with his sister London. (Brandon also spent some years growing up with his father in Georgia, as well as separately with his mother.) 1998-2002: Marshall is an All-State football player at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Fla., near Orlando. He also letters in basketball and track. Marshall at Lake Howell High School. Fall 2002: Marshall JOHN RAOUX/ begins college at TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS PHOTO Central Florida. He preferred to go to Florida but wasn’t willing to switch to safety. He says the only other school to recruit him was Connecticut. Oct. 31, 2004: An argument with an off-duty Florida Highway Patrol officer gets heated at a Denny’s. Marshall is arrested on misdemeanor charges, which later are dismissed. It is the first of more than a dozen encounters with authorities, most often related to incidents with the women in his life, including his wife, Michi, who also has been arrested. He is arrested for driving under the influence twice but pleads guilty to a lesser offense and gets one year of probation. In 2009, an Atlanta jury finds him not guilty on battery charges involving his then-longtime girlfriend, Rasheedah Watley. Marshall does not testify. He has never been found guilty of domestic violence. Watley during battery trial in August 2009. JOHN AMIS/ DENVER POST PHOTO

April 30, 2006: Marshall is drafted by the Broncos in the fourth round, No. 119 overall. Dec. 3, 2006: Marshall scores his first NFL touchdown on a 71-yard reception from Jay Cutler. Jan. 24, 2007: Orlando police respond to a bowling alley parking lot where Brandon and Freddie are arguing over money. Freddie gets in his car and attempts to run Brandon over. While police are on scene, Freddie says he will “ruin (Brandon’s) professional football career.” Brandon chooses not to press charges. February 2009: Marshall proposes to Michi Nogami-Campbell. Dec. 13, 2009: Marshall sets an NFL record for receptions in a game with 21. April 1, 2010: Brandon and Michi are married. April 14, 2010: Marshall is traded to the Dolphins for two second-round picks. February 2011: Brandon and Michi devote their lives to Christianity during a retreat. July 31, 2011: Marshall announces he suffers from borderline personality disorder. With the help of the NFL, he begins treatment at McLean Hospital. March 13: Marshall is traded to the Bears for two third-round picks. The Bears take on the remaining $28.1 million on his contract. May: During organized team activities, Marshall is officially reunited with Cutler. Aug. 9: Marshall and the Bears open their preseason against the Broncos at Soldier Field. Playing for the Dolphins. REUTERS PHOTO

SOURCES: Tribune reporting, police and court records TRIBUNE

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OURT RECORDS, PENNSYLVANIA: On Nov. 17, 1987, Marshall was riding in the back seat of a car with his younger sister, London, on Larimer Avenue, the main strip in their neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Up front, an argument between his parents escalated. According to court records, Freddie Marshall punched his wife, Diane, in the eye. Freddie stopped the car in traffic, then got out and walked around to the passenger side and punched Diane in her other eye. She kicked at him, but Freddie grabbed her feet and pulled off her skirt. Diane hustled to the driver’s side and drove to a stop sign. Freddie caught up to her, got back in and hit her again, leaving bruises under her eyes. In the back seat, the two children screamed and cried. Marshall was 3. His father would be ordered by the court to stay away from the family home for four months as part of an order of protection. Nearly 25 years later, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Marshall is behind the wheel of his charcoal gray MercedesAMG sports utility vehicle as he picks me up at the airport. He had given a slightly aloof wave, as if I weren’t sure who he was. I ask why he had invited me to Florida less than 24 hours earlier, and he responds that he wants me to watch him live his normal life. He promises not to entertain me, not to do anything he normally wouldn’t. But he isn’t allowing any photos. And he says he isn’t interested in answering personal questions. He says if I’m going to be thorough and write a fair story, I need to see how he interacts with his wife — whom he hasn’t told I’d be staying — his friends and his dogs. “I want you to observe me for who I am,” he says in the car. “There is a perception out there that is unfair, and there really is another side that I think will help your story.” Marshall drives directly to Grande Oaks Golf Club, a private club where he is not a member — “I just called up.” He says he rarely plays golf. He is reminded in the pro shop to tuck his striped shirt into his beige linen pants. Teeing up, he stands with his feet close together, suggesting an awkward swing will follow. But then he winds his arms around his body and lets loose a powerful and sweeping swing; it reminds me of his touchdown catches, arms outstretched. He makes a bogey and breathes a sigh of relief. “Yeah, that was an awesome hole.” Is there an activity in America that better symbolizes success than golf? It’s expensive to play and prides itself on exclusivity. The sport dates back centuries, and its tradition carries order and a dusty rule book. Few black athletes played for fun before Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley blew the stuffiness out of it. Now here is Marshall’s 6-foot-4, 230pound frame, famous for breaking tackles and eluding defenders, scooting around on a golf cart with his knees jutting to the sides, navigating lush fairways and skirting unexpected sand traps. Between shots, he goofs around. When his friend and trainer, Matt Gates, hits over the green and then back into the fairway, Marshall shouts to Gates that he is playing “military golf” — “left, right, left.” After a couple of hours, he asks if I’m familiar with “ghetto golf.” Huh? He smiles. He defines the term as playing music during golf, breaking etiquette. On the next hole, he says, “Let’s listen to some Mike.” He taps his iPhone, and Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” comes on. “Now we’re ready to golf!” Marshall does not keep score, and about halfway through our time he realizes he is playing the course out of order. He loses interest after 14 holes, and soon we’re back in the Mercedes. Marshall’s mansion is tucked into a small, gated community in Southwest Ranches, near the Dolphins complex and among other athletes and celebrities. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson lives next door. To reach the elegant 17,064-squarefoot fortress on 2.4 acres with a red stucco roof and sparkling marble floors, visitors must wait for another steel gate to open excruciatingly slowly, allowing an opportunity to absorb what a nearly $10 million annual paycheck can buy. When Marshall enters, the barking of his three pit bulls echoes. Friends sometimes call Marshall’s phone when they enter because they can’t find him. “House so big you gotta call on the cell,” he later jokes. Marshall shows me to a guest room — my “quarters,” he calls them. The bed is from his Broncos days. The pet tarantula in the closet is cared for by his wife; he says he last saw it a year ago. The modern, bright decor features sleek furniture and shelves holding items such as a shiny, silver, plastic tree trunk and an oversized, white sculpture of a hand. The tree trunk still has a price tag from an affordable retail chain. No pictures of his parents are on display, but three poster-sized ones of Marshall and his wife adorn the walls.

CHRIS SWEDA/TRIBUNE PHOTOS

Back in his childhood neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Marshall is a hero. A signed poster from his Broncos days hangs inside LA Grocery, a gift to longtime store manager Dred, top. “You go into some of these areas,” Marshall says, “and there’s not a lot of God there.”

BRIAN CASSELLA/TRIBUNE PHOTO

Brandon Marshall looks in a pass during Bears minicamp. The football field has been an oasis in Marshall’s turbulent life. “What makes me good is I don’t really think,” he says. “I just react.”

He owns a painting of himself with Jay Cutler, back when both were on the Broncos. It depicts a shouting Cutler grabbing Marshall’s face mask. Marshall says that before that game, they talked of breaking the record for tandem touchdowns, held by Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. “This was our rookie year, and we were like, ‘Man we’re going to beat that record!’ So when we scored, he ran up to me and was like, ‘We got 140 more left to go!’ ” On his patio, eating a salad, Marshall leans back in his chair and gazes at his pool and the surrounding palm trees. His mother-in-law, visiting for Easter, scans an iPad. This privileged life — luxury cars, golf, a gorgeous house — is barely imaginable for anyone growing up in Marshall’s old neighborhood. The Lincoln-Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh is defined by empty lots and boarded-up storefronts, gravestones of a vibrant community swallowed up by gangs and violence. When I was there, a man told me this neighborhood is where the first person in Pittsburgh was busted for crack. Many of Marshall’s relatives still live in the neighborhood. Marshall heard I was knocking on doors and speaking to family

and old neighbors. He even tweeted about it. Now, a few feet from his hot tub and a rainbow-colored basketball court, he can’t help but poke fun. “Yeah, you must be pretty dumb if you’re walking around Larimer Avenue.”

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y the time Marshall was 6 and playing organized football, his family’s athletic prowess was legendary. One of his uncles played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Cousins, uncles, aunts in Pittsburgh — everyone seems to have been a high school star. But no one was better than his father, Frederick “Freddie” Marshall. He starred at Westinghouse, a predominantly black football powerhouse. “To this day, his name around here is real big; it’s proper,” said Dwayne Crawley, 40, who lives next door to Marshall’s childhood home. Freddie was popular, captain of the football team. “As far as quarterbacks go, he was right at the front of the pack,” said George Webb, who coached the Bulldogs for three decades. As a senior Freddie threw for more than 1,000 yards, was named the city’s top quarterback and led Westinghouse to the city title. Thirty years later, former

teammates still speak in admiration. “Freddie was awesome,” Robert Rose said. “He should’ve been in the NFL.” He never got there. He enrolled at West Virginia State University, didn’t play a down of football and two years later returned to Pittsburgh, where he had a growing family with his high school sweetheart, Diane Bolden. Brandon, the second of three children, arrived in March 1984. Out of college, Freddie tried a variety of businesses, opening a car-detailing shop and a clothing store. He moved his family into his dad’s two-story house on Mayflower Street, installing a pool table upstairs and carefully tending the lawn. He and Diane would cheer on their two sons at games and practices. “His father put a lot of emphasis on them being successful,” said Robert Poston, who oversaw the football league in Marshall’s neighborhood for almost three decades. “His father, he was on top of them every day. They were not late once; they always participated.” In midget football, Marshall played running back and soon showed he had inherited his father’s gifts. One year he scored 26 touchdowns in 10 games. “Even at that age, he was the one guy who stood out,” said Davon Allensworth, a childhood

friend who remains close to Marshall. While Marshall’s parents were supportive — neighbors and friends recall the couple’s house as the only one on the street with two parents — there was trouble at home. Marshall was not yet 2 when his dad went to jail for nine months in 1986 after he smashed a woman’s face with a beer bottle in a nightclub, upset she declined to be “a whore for him,” court and police reports state. Freddie’s conflicts with his wife led to a series of protection orders. Those records allege that the day after the car incident in 1987, Freddie tried to choke Diane after she swung a knife and cut him because he threatened to kill her. At a convenience store in 1989, Freddie allegedly grabbed a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and hit Diane in the face with it, causing her to fall. Freddie continued to assault her, according to court records. She was hospitalized for two days. Four years later, she was granted another protection order after Freddie didn’t let her inside their house without being hit. He allegedly told employees at her hair salon “they would find her body in a gutter.” Freddie’s encounters with law enforcement also include arrests for allegedly selling drugs. Sometimes a lawyer got

charges dismissed, such as when cops found bags of heroin, a notebook and a calculator in a car he was driving. The most bizarre incident involving Freddie and detailed in court records took place in the early hours of Christmas Eve in 1989. Responding to a call, police arrived at the Marshalls’ house and found Diane lying on the floor. Her sister said Diane had been beaten up. Paramedics took her to a hospital. Police began searching for Freddie. Meanwhile, the phone rang at the house and Diane’s mother answered. It was Freddie. He asked if police found a box. She told him they did and hung up. The box was on the second-floor landing. Inside were 11 bags of cocaine. While the officers pieced together the evening, a large object — left unidentified in police reports — came crashing through the dining room window, hitting one officer in the head and Diane’s sister in the back. Freddie was heard yelling, “I got you!” and scurried away into the darkness. Police shut off the lights and 15 minutes later spotted Freddie running outside. Then he jumped through the dining room window, falling to the floor. One officer opened fire. There’s no indication Freddie — or anyone else — was wounded. Freddie was arrested. Diane also was arrested on drug charges after police returned with a warrant and found cocaine and cash stowed in a safe. Freddie pleaded guilty to drug possession and aggravated assault and got five years of probation. Diane, found guilty on drug charges, received a year of probation. The couple eventually divorced. By the mid-1990s, Diane moved to Georgia with Marshall’s sister. Freddie moved his boys to Florida. “He was trying to get his kids in a better atmosphere,” Crawley said, before ticking off some examples. “Where you don’t have (one relative) showing you how to drink moonshine, you ain’t got (another relative) showing you how to hustle beer and you ain’t got (another) telling you how to carry razors in your mouth. That’s the type of family we’re talking about.”

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arshall is driving to his barber when I ask about borderline personality disorder. Research shows that childhood trauma — such as witnessing violence and unstable family relationships — is a common cause. To be diagnosed, the American Psychiatric Association requires individuals to exhibit at least five of nine behavior criteria related to emotional disorders. They include unstable relationships, mood swings, feeling empty and difficulty controlling anger. Marshall isn’t interested in disclosing which criteria he met, but he says his illness manifested itself in Denver during his third season. He began losing trust in the people closest to him, such as his father. Why? Marshall won’t give details. “That’s not productive to the healing processes for my father and (my) relationship,” he says. “And that’s more important than a good story and people understanding me.” Marshall’s success forced him into new, unexpected roles with his family. In just a few years he went from a lightly recruited

■ MORE COVERAGE ONLINE: Check out video interviews and a photo gallery from the neighborhood where Marshall grew up at chicagotribune.com/marshall

high school player to the University of Central Florida to a multimillionaire. While in Denver, he took in his halfbrother on his father’s side and a cousin, putting them in school and setting curfews. He paid for heat and water for his sister and her three children. He fielded daily demands from family and friends. No one, he says, offered advice. As he dealt with new pressures, he also was immersed in a chaotic relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Rasheedah Watley, which he believes also contributed to his illness. The two met in junior high school, when Marshall lived in Georgia, and dated on and off through college. Once he was in the NFL, the relationship was marked by physical battles and arrests. During a 2009 trial when Marshall faced two misdemeanor battery charges — a jury found him not guilty — Watley testified that she bit and hit Marshall. Watley, whose civil suit against Marshall was dismissed in May, declined to comment. Marshall came off as a barbarian filled with anger. But he also remembers depression, isolation — wearing a hoodie at gas stations to avoid being noticed. “I used to go a whole week without leaving my house. I used to think it was normal,” he says. According to Marshall and court records, he has seen therapists over the years. Last year, with the help of the NFL, Marshall entered McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. He was diagnosed and treated over three months. There are no medications solely for his illness, and he says he doesn’t take any for it. “Today I get angry at the same things, but it’s how it affects me. It’s how I deal with it, how I cope with it,” he says one day while driving. “And it’s not just anger. It’s sadness. When I get sad, when I get lonely, when I get happy — it’s all emotions.” Psychotherapy taught him skills to deal with his illness. He underwent dialectical behavioral therapy, including a process called radical acceptance — accepting situations without criticism and learning how to cope. Marshall listed the people in his life, how he knew them and why. He said he now shuts off relationships he believes are unhealthy for him. “You want to create boundaries and not walls; boundaries protect, walls isolate,” he says. He didn’t want to name anyone but did say he decided always to take care of his mother, no questions asked. He is not as explicit about his father. It’s more complicated. In 2007, Marshall told police in Florida that after he turned down Freddie’s request for money, his dad broke his car window with a beer bottle, got into his own car and tried to run over his son. While police were on the scene, records show, his dad said several times he’d ruin his son’s NFL career. To this day, Marshall’s family still pulls on him, still seeks favors. One day, Marshall is sprawled out in his home theater, digesting a Jimmy John’s sandwich, when his phone rings. Please turn to Next Page

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