Real People With Rudy: Former Titans player opens up about battling anxiety

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Former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Dave Ball is trying to use his battle with anxiety to help others who are struggling. (WSMV) Former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Dave Ball is trying to use his battle with anxiety to help others who are struggling. (WSMV)

Last week, Philadelphia Eagles lineman Brandon Brooks disclosed that he suffers from anxiety attacks and becomes violently ill before games.

There are 40 million people who suffer from the same disorder. Age makes no difference - they're all real people.

Former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Dave Ball was always the life of the party if you came into the locker room, quick with a laugh and a joke.

But now, he will tell you that much of it was a mask because he was churning on the inside.

"I was very good at compartmentalizing because I knew on game day I could put all my thoughts into fully focusing on the task at hand," Ball said. "You make a play and hear 70,000 cheering, that's like a drug ... That's awesome, but at the same time, when it's all said and done, I'm trying to go to sleep at night, sometimes it's really hard to ease those fearful thoughts."

Ball was an All-American defensive end at UCLA when the anxiety attacks first hit.

"I felt like I gotta go. I gotta get out of here. That basically was the first panic attack I had as a person. I thought I was going crazy," he said.

Ball said the more he fought the anxiety, the stronger it got.

"People learn how to put on these masks of who they think they should be via media, via social media, via movies and magazines and TV shows. Deep down, everybody is vulnerable," Ball said. "It's a lot of things. It's fear of dying, fear of not having a purpose, fear of trying to be validated, fear of not being validated, as a man, as a person, fear of not being loved."

Ball showed Channel 4 the medications he took.

"I've had three teammates commit suicide," Ball said. "What if we could get a coach some information that could possibly change a life, that could possibly save a life? That could change everything for that player."

Ball now works with high schools and colleges around the country to teach coaches to listen.

"The coaches who truly care about their players are in the minority," Ball said.

Those are bold words, but one coach who gets it is Dana Ford at Tennessee State University.

"He's more attuned to his players' needs than a lot of coaches I work with. The guy is passion personified. He deeply cares about his players," Ball said.

Ford said he treats his players like they're his sons.

"We develop pretty good relationships. Everything is built on honesty and trust," Ford said. "If they're doing well, you tell them great job. If they're not doing what they're supposed to do, then we try to get them to do what they're supposed to do."

Because of his own background with anxiety, Ball knows what the players are going through, so he's connecting coaches with their players.

"These are the best ones. These are the off-the-field life stress questions," Ball said. "So what player needs more support from teammates or coaches right now and why. This is like where it gets deep. Who's struggling?"

Ball sends out questions to athletes.

"Did they give you a different insight into your players?" Channel 4's Rudy Kalis asked Ford.

"Absolutely," Ford said. "You can't put a price on knowing what your locker room is thinking."

Some of Ford's players shared their thoughts on their coach.

"He cares about academics more than probably basketball sometimes," said Darreon Reddick. "He tells us if you don't meet the GPA, you're not going to play."

"You get to know people's stories and know why people are the way they are," McCall said. "So you know how you can talk to them and building relationships as a man," said Tahjere McCall.

The answers are anonymous.

"So you don't know who's sending them in, but you know that answer is in your locker room and you either need to fix it or continue to feed that," Ford said. "I love it. It's almost like cheating a little bit. I love to know what's on their mind, and this allows me to do that."

Ball's organization is First Team Reps. Click here for more information.

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