The NFL’s Duane Brown Tackles Diabetes
A family history of type 2 spurs a football star to get involved
Duane Brown makes stuff happen. On the gridiron, he’s an offensive tackle for the Houston Texans, knocking other pro football players out of the way so his team can score. Off the field, he works hard, too, especially when it comes to raising awareness about diabetes.
The former Virginia Tech Hokie and first-round draft pick in 2008 has now been drafted into a different sort of role: He’s an Ambassador for the American Diabetes Association. Brown, 28, doesn’t have diabetes, but he knows all too well how it can affect one person or a whole family: Both his mother and grandmother live with type 2. And because physical fitness is the name of Brown’s professional game—at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, he works to make sure he stays on top of his health always—it’s his personal mission, too. He’s helping his family become healthier, and he wants to spread that message.
Brown took some time out of the preseason to chat with Diabetes Forecast about his health, his family, and his devotion to raising diabetes awareness.
What brought you to join forces with the American Diabetes Association?
Well, diabetes is something that has really been affecting my family a lot, probably more so my mother [Myra Brown] than anybody. She was diagnosed when I was about 6 years old. It’s led to a number of health issues for her, most importantly kidney failure about seven or eight years ago. My grandmother [Florence Kenney] was diagnosed about eight years ago. Both of them have had strokes within the last three years. It’s something that’s affected my family for a long time. I just want to bring awareness to people about how dangerous it is.
What do you remember about your mom’s diabetes growing up? How have things changed as you’ve gotten more involved in her care?
I just remember her having to take insulin all the time. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older; she’s so stubborn. She changed her diet when I was younger, but she’s fallen off it. Since the beginning of this year, I really got on her. She’s really gotten on top of it since then and lost about 20 or more pounds. But you just have to really, really be disciplined. It’s a struggle for me to see her in the state that she’s in.
Do you worry about developing diabetes yourself? African Americans are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes.
I thought I’d be pretty prone to it, considering how many people around me had it, but I changed my diet and eating habits a long time ago.
You exercise for a living, and you have to be a big guy to be a tackle, so it might be easy to slack on your meal plan, right?
Early in my career, I got into my mind that “you need to be big,” and that was my mentality. But at 305 pounds, I’m probably the leanest I’ve been in my career, and I’m faster and stronger. I feel good. I figure it can prevent injury.
It can mean so much more when you eat healthy. I eat a lot, but I try to eat healthy. I eat a lot of protein: chicken, fish, occasionally beef. I try not to eat any fried food, no junk foods, and I don’t really eat much dessert or candy. I don’t eat fast food. My favorite meal is spaghetti, but I don’t eat it nearly as much as I used to—[but] I do have to eat a lot of carbs at times [such as before games]. I eat five to six meals a day, but I make sure it’s healthy, as opposed to eating three meals a day but having a double cheeseburger, milkshake, and fries.
Is it hard to stay focused when your teammates, family, or friends are maybe a little less health conscious?
It’s so easy, especially being down here in the South, to see how bad people eat. But you’ve just got to train your taste buds. You can get used to eating burgers and fried chicken tenders all the time, so you’ve got to train your taste buds to not want that anymore. My wife [Sirius XM radio personality Devon Anjelica] is very health conscious as well. We help each other out, being that we’re both on the same page.
And you do the same with your family members who have diabetes, it seems.
I’m definitely pressing the issue. My mom doesn’t really have the energy to cook like she used to. I got her on [a weight-loss program with prepared meals] in March, and that’s been huge, really beneficial for her. She doesn’t have to do anything but heat meals up. It’s not as good as having fresh food in front of you, but it’s a healthy substitute. I got her a membership to the YMCA. She got into it, and then she fell in the house one day and broke her kneecap, and had a stroke a couple of weeks later. We’re trying to rehabilitate that. The diet is the start of it.
So what’s your message about diabetes, as an ADA Ambassador?
I want to spread awareness. People are very ignorant [about diabetes], especially in the African American community. People get diabetes but don’t realize how severe it can be if you don’t pay attention to it. People don’t think to go and get checked out to see if they’re high risk [for type 2 diabetes] or even to see if they have it.
Stay disciplined. Just stay active. There’s so much that can keep you distracted and keep you in the house. You need to make sure you stay active and get outside, even if only for an hour or two. If you can, just try to develop smart eating habits that can stay with you and benefit you forever.
Mom Knows Best
Duane Brown is looking out for his mom, Myra Brown. And that doesn’t surprise his mother at all. “He’s just an awesome person,” she says. “He really is a godsend. He tries to help everybody any way he can, even if it’s just suggestions. He is the one everybody looks to for help.”
Myra Brown says her son has worked with her to establish good eating habits and an exercise routine that she can use as she recovers from injuries. She’s lived with type 2 diabetes for more than 20 years and also has high blood pressure and kidney disease. With Duane’s support (and the encouragement of other family members), she says she’s making progress toward living a healthier life.
Duane Brown says he’s proud of his mom’s accomplishments. The feeling is mutual.
“I’m proud of him in so many ways,” Myra Brown says. “He really is concerned about me, [and] he wants me to do better.”