Percy Harvin opens up about his anxiety for the first time in his return to Florida

By Adam Silverstein
June 30, 2018
Percy Harvin opens up about his anxiety for the first time in his return to Florida

Image Credit: ESPN Images

Incredible on the field and incredibly frustrating off it, Percy Harvin stood out during his career with the Florida Gators as the single most electric playmaking talent in program history. There was no doubting his skill and game-changing potential, though it was never able to stand on its own due to character concerns and medical issues that kept him off the field.

The entire package that was Harvin the player followed him to the NFL. While he was eventually able to make some strides getting his persistent and debilitating migraines under control, his personality and injury history kept him from becoming the superstar that everyone who watched him in college knew he could become at the next level.

This week, we received some insight into why Harvin was not at his best while with the Gators and unable to fulfill his entire potential in the NFL.

Now back at Florida assisting new head coach Dan Mullen while working towards his degree, Harvin opened up about his disorder in a feature produced by Sports Illustrated.

“The biggest thing that a lot of people didn’t know about was the anxiety. That kind of tagged along with a lot of my migraines,” said Harvin, who noted that he was diagnosed with the disorder in 2010.

“The best way I can describe it is that I felt ‘out of body,’” Harvin said while describing a typical bout of anxiety. “My heart would be going, I’d be sweating, I felt like everybody in the room was looking at me. My speech was slurring. I didn’t wanna eat. I was gasping for air. You’re so worked up that it’s hard to spit words out.”

The anxiety issues may somewhat explain why it always seemed — from the outside — to be one thing after another with Harvin. Outside of his persistent heel issues and knee injuries, Harvin constantly missed practice with the Gators but always made it back for the games. Many blamed this on then-head coach Urban Meyer treating him with kid gloves from a disciplinary standpoint. And while that may have been true, Harvin’s disorder provides more insight into what was simply termed “character concerns” by NFL talent evaluators.

The anxiety that plagued Harvin throughout his career and life does not excuse his behavioral issues, but no one can argue that dealing with such a disorder can affect one’s mood on a day to day basis. “I just know everything would have been a lot easier if I had been patient with myself,” Harvin explained, noting how often he would not sleep before games or be unable to eat for an entire day.

After his 32 touchdowns led to a couple of national championships with the Gators, and despite his myriad red flags, Harvin was selected with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by Minnesota. He was tremendous for the Vikings, scoring 24 touchdowns while playing 53 of the first 56 games of his career over three-plus seasons with the team, even earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Harvin suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2012, and Minnesota — being wary of the off-field Harvin they experienced and knowing he would be in line for a big-time contract — traded him to Seattle.

Harvin played in 23 games over the following four seasons, including just six with the Seahawks, who traded him in 2014. But before Harvin left Seattle, he battled through a hip injury and concussion to return the opening kickoff of the second half of Super Bowl XLVIII for an 87-yard touchdown, helping the Seahawks extend their lead and win their first title.

After stints with the Jets and Bills — including two separate retirements in Buffalo — Harvin left the NFL for good at age 28. Myriad injuries plagued him, and the migraines were a massive hindrance with Harvin visiting the Mayo Clinic for extensive diagnosis. He even collapsed during a Seattle practice and was rushed to the hospital in an episode that shed greater light on his issues.

“Take a hammer and beat it on the side of your head nonstop,” he said when describing his migraines. “If you’re trying to relax, if someone’s trying to talk to you, that hammer is still going off. You’re trying to eat, still going off.”

His anxiety was clearly what tied the bow on the package of Harvin’s issues that make his inability to live up to his athletic potential clearer than ever. He told SI that it led to him playing nearly all of his NFL games on little or no sleep whatsoever. Harvin is the latest professional athlete to admit to an anxiety order, joining NBA stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, who are two of the biggest names to discuss their issues recently.

And while the anxiety has not gone away, Harvin has clearly moved on from his athletic career and hopes to share the lessons he’s learned with the Gators.

In a strange twist of fate, Harvin told SI that he moved from a mansion in Orlando to a four-bedroom Gainesville home the same week that Florida fired then-head coach Jim McElwain. He claims his “hands were itching” at the time, feeling that “something’s going to happen,” and it most certainly did as Mullen was hired four weeks later. Not only that, Mullen bought a home in the same community and same subdivision as Harvin.

“When I say I’m supposed to be [in Gainesville], it’s not something I say lightly,” Harvin said. “It’s a gut feeling. A following-the-universe-type thing.”

Harvin’s return to Gainesville reunites him more permanently with his mother and five-year-old son Jaden. He said that he had “fun” in the NFL but feels “real love” back at his alma mater, and Mullen sees a completely different person when he looks at Harvin.

“I don’t know if it’s maturity, but he’s not the same guy he was,” Mullen said. “My wife will come home from dropping the kids off, and he’s already dropped his son off, and there he is walking his dogs. … It’s like, boy, he’s a regular guy now. To see him come back here and find what’s important in life, to have something beyond football that he can turn to—that’s the kind of man he’s becoming.”

In his extensive conversation with SI, Harvin also opens up about the alleged choking incident involving former and current Florida wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, his sideline antics with the Vikings and the altercations in which he was involved during his time with the Seahawks.

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