Brian Dawkins bared his heart and soul on every single snap of his 16-year career. The stadium tunnel was his phone booth, the place where he transformed from a skinny kid from Florida into Weapon X. It was something to behold on gameday.
Off the field, the Philadelphia Eagles legend didn’t have anywhere to run or hide. “I was basically walking around with a mask on, pretending nothing was wrong, pretending I was just fine,” Dawkins writes in his new book “Blessed by the Best: My Journey to Canton and Beyond.” He wasn’t fine. Dawkins was dealing with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
Dawkins revealed his secret struggles in 2018 ahead of his enshrinement ceremony, yet the 47-year-old felt more of his story needed to be told. He wanted to write a book that could inspire and motivate others dealing with the same problems. It’s not a football story, although Eagles fans will appreciate the trip down memory lane.
“This is not a football book. It has football in it, but this is a life tool,” Dawkins told Heavy. “These are things that I have gone through in my life, that others have taught me.”
Don’t take it as a blueprint on how to survive. It’s more like CliffsNotes on how to be successful – whatever your definition of success is – from a friend. That friend just happens to be one of the greatest football players of all time. And a guy viewed as a superhero around Philly.
“I’ve been blessed to earn the right to speak to people and come into their lives,” Dawkins said. “They see me as this sometimes larger-than-life type of figure, that maybe they think nothing ever happens or goes wrong in my life, right? I wanted to write this book and be very transparent on some of the things that I’ve gone through, but it’s not just some of the things that I’ve gone through, it’s some of the things that I grew through. You see I grew through all of those things and because I grew through them I’m stronger as an individual because of it now.
“So I’ve gained some wisdoms through my studying, from my reading and from my meditating, so now I believe I’m supposed to give this away. I’m not supposed to horde up wisdom, or horde up the knowledge of how to overcome and just keep it to myself. No, I’m supposed to share it for those that have an ear to listen and a heart to understand the things that are coming out of my mouth.”
The latest Eagles news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Eagles newsletter here!
Embracing That Blue-Collar Attitude
“Blessed by the Best” starts with Dawkins’ emotional Hall-of-Fame speech in Canton before twisting and turning back to his humble beginnings in Jacksonville. The characters are jump-off-the-page vibrant – highlighted by his supportive wife, Connie, and “Saint Dawkins,” his 102-year-old grandmother – and instilled the core values he continues to live by. One powerful excerpt from the book revolves around a fight at school.
Young Dawkins came home that day and his mom Patricia asked if he started it. When Dawkins replied no, a relieved Patricia went on to explain the rules: “You don’t start a fight, but you finish it.” You can almost see a young kid on the playground in South Philly getting the same speech. Dawkins embraced that blue-collar attitude at an early age.
“It wasn’t supposed to be me to be successful in the NFL, it was supposed to be so many other people,” Dawkins told Heavy. “It was always somebody else so I always had to outwork, always had to prove myself, always had to go out and earn things so when I got to Philly my mindset is what? To earn everything that I have.
“So when you say it like that, what does that remind you of? The term blue-collar, someone who goes out with their hard hat on and they earn. They get calluses on their hands, fingers and feet, and all those things. Because they’re working their behind off for every scrap, that’s what I did.”
Dawkins embodied everything Philadelphia stands for during his 13 seasons in midnight green. He never took a snap off, including staying in a 2002 playoff game with a concussion. The hard-hitting safety knocked himself and Michael Vick out. Initially ruled a touchdown, the play was called back due to a holding penalty. The Eagles won 20-6.
“I knocked myself out,” Dawkins said. “In today’s rules, I wouldn’t have played the rest of the game. My mentality was, I don’t expect you to cheer for me, I’m supposed to give you a reason to cheer for me.”
Establishing Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation
The Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation was founded in 2019 as a way to “trigger a spark in young people,” per the foundation’s website. One goal is to award grants and scholarships to young adults living in single-parent households, to afford them the proper resources to thrive and further their education. That is phase two.
“It’s really to help those marginalized communities, to bless single parents,” Dawkins said, “and the young adults that live in the single-parent households, to give them the resources they need.”
Phase one started in May 2020 when Dawkins introduced “cerebral wellness packages” in collaboration with education innovator EVERFI. These are online courses for students to learn about mental health issues, along with providing the right tools and coping mechanisms to deal with them. They learn on their own time, in the privacy of their own homes and thoughts.
“Teaching them coping mechanisms, teaching them what mental health is,” Dawkins said. “What mental illness is, which are two separate things. And then help break down the stigma attached with it so they can understand when they need help or when one of their friends needs help, then how to get it.”
(Editor’s note: Fans can purchase “Blessed by the Best” by going to BrianDawkins.com where there is an option to buy hand-signed copies. Brian Dawkins is also donating 50% of his net proceeds (read: out of his own pocket) from sales of the book to the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation).