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Former Eagles Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins tackles cerebral wellness by spreading awareness

Brian Dawkins' 2018 Hall of Fame ceremony speech inspired him to take more action and create his own foundation to help with cerebral wellness and mental health.

Brian Dawkins made nine Pro Bowls in 16 seasons and was inducted into the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brian Dawkins made nine Pro Bowls in 16 seasons and was inducted into the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame.Read moreAP

When you hear the name Brian Dawkins, more than likely you think of football. Images of a hard-hitting, relentless, passionate safety come to mind.

Those adjectives still apply, but Dawkins has taken on a new profession. At 46, he’s tapping into his mental side more than ever. He’s tackling cerebral wellness issues by spreading awareness through his foundation and using his platform.

“When Saturday came, I was ready,” Dawkins said May 27 on Inquirer Live at Lunch. “There’s no more thinking, worry, doubt, [or] concern. I know the game plan, I’m prayed up for the week, I’ve taken every day and I’ve gotten better mentally, spiritually, and physically. Sunday was party. It was literally party time. I still do that type of routine to this day.”

Dawkins has four pillars to controlling his life: his actions, reactions, efforts, and attitude.

Effort is the one that stands out — just like it did when he was racing 30 yards across the field from his safety position to tackle running backs near the line of scrimmage.

Through its consultancy arm, thinkBeyond, Beyond Sport is helping Dawkins develop a strategy with his organization, the Impact Foundation. This is a popular practice with current and former athletes, but the hands-on approach Dawkins displays isn’t.

“He’s on every email, he responds very quickly,” said Alexandra Chalat, managing director at Beyond Sport. “That’s really not typical with a lot of athletes. He’s very focused on getting this done.”

“He’s just there every step of the way,” Chalat added. “To me, that totally reflects what type of player he was on the field. You put him in to get stuff done.”

If you find Dawkins’ new profession surprising, you’re not alone. He never saw himself doing this either, until he spoke out about his battle with depression.

For a while, only Dawkins’ wife, Connie, knew he struggled with suicidal thoughts that led to heavy drinking. At one point, Dawkins ran full speed into a door after being angry. Connie eventually reached out to former Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, and they persuaded Dawkins to get help.

Today, Dawkins prays, meditates, and writes in his journal every morning for at least 20 minutes -- it’s his way of providing peacefulness in his life. But he added that “success leaves trails.” It’s one reason he shares the information with others who could be going through something similar.

“You should have at least one person in your life that you can talk to — can talk real with,” Dawkins said. “Once you feel comfortable, then that’s something you can reach back and share with others.”

“I’ve been told by my big brothers the things I go through aren’t just for me,” Dawkins added.

Dawkins was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. At that induction ceremony the same voice that roused Eagles players and fans before games had grown even bigger, and more important.

“I want to use that [platform] to uplift others,” Dawkins said. “When I can do something to help someone have a better outcome in their lives, it will help and affect generations to come.”

He still remembers his favorite moments on the football field. Winning the 2004 NFC championship game against the Falcons stands out. Dawkins recalls seeing coach Andy Reid’s tears of joy and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s saying, “Dawk, we did it."

But believe it or not, he doesn’t miss football. He’s not even sweating missing games now as a fan during the pandemic, and that’s because of his focus on his current profession.

“Sports will always be a part of me, but since I’ve been on this endeavor, this level of outreach, I’ve honestly not been into sports the way that I used to, and that sounds crazy,” Dawkins said. “There would never have been a time that I would’ve thought you can ask that question and I would not say, ‘oh yea.’ ”

The Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation was created in 2019, and he’s already thinking big. Dawkins initially put together programs in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., but he has plans to expand. This includes going to Philadelphia and his college, Clemson.

The programs will include learning centers, sports spaces, and schools over the coming years, Dawkins’ website says.

"Brian really hopes that this program isn’t just something that is in Jacksonville and Philly, but ultimately becomes national and international,” Chalat said.

Dawkins’ favorite Philly athlete is former Eagles great Reggie White. Like the man nicknamed “the minister of defense," Dawkins is preaching a message to help others. It’s his new Hall of Fame journey.

“My heart is honestly into this,” Dawkins said. “I want to learn as much as I can about helping people help themselves ... recognizing things that they don’t yet see that’s already there.”

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