Brett Favre Explains How He Had Suicidal Thoughts In Connection With Past Addiction Struggles

Photo: Bolling with Favre Podcast
Brett Favre Announces Suicidal Thoughts In Connection With Past Addiction Struggles

If asked to picture the most legendary athlete they can think of, there’s more than a solid chance that sports fans of a certain age will picture Brett Favre.

To say that the former footballer has an impressive resume would be an understatement. The quarterback and three-peat MVP played for four teams over the span of twenty years, spending the majority of seasons with the Green Bay Packers. 

Favre has won the Super Bowl, set multiple records with the league and the Packers, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. 

The highly decorated pro athlete has also struggled publicly with addiction

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Take as needed for the pain

It began as a remedy for a sprained ankle, and it blossomed into a struggle that would come close to ending his life. Favre suggests that, even after all it put him through, he honestly can’t say if he even needed pain pills for that ankle. 

But take them he did, figuring, in his words, “What the heck? Why not?” 

The heck turned out to be multiple seizures, rehab, and ultimately, suicidal ideation. Favre went on to admit that, sometimes, he’d take a month’s worth of pills in just two days. 

Rehab didn’t work for him, and his options, as he saw them, were disappearing. One fateful night, with just eight pills in his possession, he sat in the bathroom for two hours, telling himself, “It’s one of two things, I die, or I flush these pills down the toilet.” 

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After he’d pulled the handle, he was inconsolable. 

“I almost wanted to kill myself because of doing that,” Favre said on a recent episode of his podcast. “ I was so mad at myself because now what was I gonna do?” 

While Favre may seem like an untouchable idol for some, his story is not uncommon. Even the most successful among us are prone to the same vulnerabilities that plague the general population. Maybe even more so. 

Normalizing the norm

As of 2017, around 38% of adults in the U.S. had an issue with drugs or alcohol. 8.5 million of them also concurrently suffered from a mental health disorder. Mental illness and substance abuse are also extremely common among football players, with one survey finding that 71% misused opioids. 

Adding to the problem is the ease of access that players seem to have. As some reports of former players suggest, the locker room itself is the biggest supplier. Other players find legitimate medical sources to get their fix in the amounts they need to maintain their addiction. 

Players like Jeff Hatch have spoken out about the problem, demanding that the league take notice and move to action. 

But the NFL moves slowly on issues of player safety. 

How far we've come

As early as the 1990s, researchers were discovering patterns in cognitive conditions that arose after repetitive mild head injury. But the phenomenon of sluggishness following head injuries dates back to early boxing matches and the reporters who labeled them “punch-drunk.” 

The league only acknowledged a link between football and the degenerative condition known as CTE in 2016. Researchers began to provide evidence of such a link in the early 2000s, with the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu. And then, in 2017, findings were published that showed CTE in the brains of a sampling of deceased football players -- in 99% of them

CTE has been linked to mental illness and severe cognitive decline that can mimic Alzheimer’s. Players like Brett Favre, who’ve experienced both addiction and severe concussions throughout the course of their career, could possibly find themselves in a cycle where one problem reinforces the other. 

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Over the years, the league has been anything but helpful. Officials have been accused of suppressing the data and attempting to minimize the issue. 

As more star players like Favre come out with stories about their own experiences, other players may be emboldened to reveal their own struggles with addiction or potential CTE symptoms. 

And, as athletes and other public figures speak more on the effects of mental illness, addiction, and suicidal ideation, hopefully the benefits to the public at large will shine through. Normalization is key to reducing stigma and allowing these voices to be heard. Voices that are all suffering from extremely common issues, but suffering alone because of the fear of remaining stigma. 

Favre has been sober for twenty years. The fact that the severity of his struggle was kept secret for so long is a testament to how harshly the public still judges anyone who struggles with their mental health. 

But if the NFL could be convinced to stand behind its players and their wellbeing, they would become a powerful ally in forging the path ahead. 

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.