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Ex-Viking Michael Bennett opens up on trauma, depression, and suicide

The former Pro Bowler is speaking out about his traumatic upbringing and living with depression.

To say life after football has been challenging for former Minnesota Vikings running back Michael Bennett would be an understatement.

Bennett, who pleaded no contest to felony burglary and identity theft charges in 2017, has been opening up about personal struggles that have followed him since he was a boy growing up in Wisconsin. 

Bennett was a guest on the Minnesota-based Twist podcast on Saturday, during which the former 2001 first-round pick said he continues to struggle with anxiety and depression that he believes are linked not only to learning how to live after football, but a difficult childhood growing up in Wisconsin. 

Bennett went to the Pro Bowl in his second NFL season after leading the Vikings with 1,296 rushing yards, but the injury bug limited his production the next three seasons and he eventually bounced around the league until 2010 while playing for the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Chargers and Raiders. 

It was in Oakland when Bennett says he was struggling to the point that he held a gun to his head contemplating suicide. Bennett's uninterrupted words, as said on the podcast. 

"Then there comes that dark side when you're done playing. I was suicidal. I got really dark because you do something all your life from 5 years old to 34 or 35 years old, and then it stops. I can remember times going into the Raiders parking lot and just sitting there like why the hell am I not in there. What's wrong with me? You just start asking yourself all these questions and you just go into a mental dark spiral. I know that's what happened to me. 

"I was sitting n the parking lot at one time with a gun to my head because I can't play football. It was hard. But I'm thankful for the things I went through and the people I had around me to just put their angels around me to get me through the dark times."

Bennett, comfortable talking about his painful past because it's helped him mature and understand that he's not alone, then opened the door to what was a scarring childhood. 

"Growing up, being physically abused, beat, watching my mom – when I was 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old – fighting off my step-dad because he was abusing my mom so much. I would take the beating just so she could get away," said Bennett. 

"I was put in dog kennels. I was chained to trees. All of that scarring, it just built up on you. Playing football, you're taught not to cry. You're taught to tough it out. Big boys don't cry, you're a football player. You have to be tough and you have to have a tough mind. We were programmed not to say anything."

Bennett said he suffered a "lot of deep pain" from losing a lot of his childhood, which included taking care of his household when he was 14-15 years old when his mother was on drugs. 

He masked that pain with the physical toll from football. As he put it, he was "playing for pain" to avoid the psychological and mental pain he carried from his youth. 

Today, Bennett, 41, carries the weight of the psychological stress of his past and the physical pain from playing professional football. His knees are bone-on-bone, his back and shoulder are "screwed up," a wrist popped out of place and it's difficult to squeeze a football. 

"It's just a lot. But at the end of the day it's the price you pay for it," Bennett said. 

Anyone dealing with a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can always contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is available 24/7/365. 

Note: Bennett's interview (starts at about the 22-minute mark in the podcast) on the Twist podcast comes immediately after BMTN's Joe Nelson joined as a guest.

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