Percy Harvin revealed in a Sports Illustrated story that in addition to his unending migraines, he also has dealt with an anxiety disorder for much of his life.
The 30-year-old, who walked away from the NFL after the 2016 season, was part of the magazine’s annual “where are they now?” issue and detailed his myriad struggles during his football career.
‘I’m at peace’
Living back in Gainesville, Fla., where he rose to stardom with the Florida Gators, and both helping to raise his 5-year-old son and serving as something of a mentor for current Florida players, Harvin opened up about his mental health struggles, in the hopes that he can help others.
Referring to reporter Michael McKnight as “Bossman” throughout their time together, Harvin said he didn’t miss football last year, the first time since he began playing at age six that he wasn’t on a team.
“This whole journey has been surprising. A lot of the stuff I struggled with, it just don’t affect me no more,” Harvin said. “That’s why I’m comfortable talking about it. I’m cool with you asking whatever you want. Failing a drug test. The fights. ‘Cause it’s gonna help somebody.”
Harvin said that his anxiety disorder, which he was diagnosed with only after he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, is linked to the vicious migraines he’s dealt with since he was seven.
His migraines are well-known; he describes them as, “take a hammer and beat it on the side of your head nonstop.”
The constant pain and the anxiety meant Harvin played nearly all of his NFL games on little to no sleep.
“The best way I can describe it is that I felt ‘out of body.’ My heart would be going, I’d be sweating, I felt like everybody in the room was looking at me,” he said. “My speech was slurring. I didn’t want to eat. I was gasping for air. You’re so worked out that it’s hard to spit words out.”
‘I’m supposed to be here’
Harvin’s volatile outbursts followed him throughout his career, from high school through the NFL. He was suspended for disciplinary reasons in high school, disagreements with a Florida assistant coach, and he fought with at least two teammates.
He won’t blame his anxiety disorder for his outbursts, and mental health professionals SI spoke with said anxiety and emotional outbursts aren’t usually related.
Nearly a year ago, he gained split custody of his son, Jaden, with Janine Williams, a former Florida volleyball player Harvin had dated on and off for years; the week he moved back to Gainesville, Gators coach Jim McElwain was fired.
His replacement? Dan Mullen, who had helped recruit Harvin to Florida and was the Gators’ offensive coordinator in 2005. Mullen and his family moved into the same neighborhood Harvin had moved into, and in addition to encouraging Harvin to return to school (he’s now a few credits shy of a degree in psychology), he told him to come visit the team whenever he wanted.
“When I say I’m supposed to be here,” Harvin said of being in Gainesville again. “It’s not something I say lightly. It’s a gut feeling. A following-the-universe-type thing.”
Moving to mentoring
Once one of the most explosive players in college football and the NFL, Harvin now seems to be enjoying his role as a mentor.
“He’s young enough that our players have seen him play; they’ve seen his success in the NFL,” Mullen said. “So when Percy says, ‘hey, here’s the standard; I’ve done it and it helped me be successful’ or ‘I didn’t, and it cost me,’ it’s a valuable voice. I mean, they wanna be him.”