Beating the Blues: A team sport

Enlisting others to help take on depression.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Some moments are so etched in irony that they almost seem surreal.
One occurred in Houston, where I had gone to meet with Philip J.
Burguieres (burg-yair'), a top-level executive who was willing to talk
about his own experience with depression and his experience with other
CEOs with depression.

A key player on the Houston business scene, many times CEO of the
Year, Burguieres is now Vice Chairman of the Houston Texans, the newest
franchise in the National Football League. We were to meet in his
offices -- in Reliant Stadium, a state of the art arena that dwarfs the
famed Astrodome now sitting like an abandoned child beside it.

I entered through the corporate offices, and absent the team photos
on the wall you'd be hard pressed to know you weren't heading to a
meeting in a downtown office complex.

But how could I get the conversational ball rolling? I'm your basic
sissy-girl New Yorker. Spectator sports? I head to the ballet.

My hairdresser saved me. Once a soccer player, now a fan of all
sports, he took it upon himself to brief me. “Look,” he said
while cutting my hair shortly before I left, “there's only one
thing you need to know. This was Houston's first season and they beat
Dallas. Got it? They beat Dallas.”

His briefing proved perfect. That's the great thing about being a
journalist. You never know when you're going to pick up useful
info.

I spent half a morning talking to Burguieres. Then he brought in
one of his closest friends, John Sage, whom, he says, saved his
life.

A big, handsome guy with a remarkably gentle presence, Sage runs
Bridges To Life, a pioneering prison-based organization he started in
order to put a human face on crime. But Sage was right at home in the
football stadium -- he had, after all, once been a star linebacker for
Louisiana State University

At noon, the three of us headed for the cafeteria where the players
normally eat. But in mid-January there are no players around; it is
off-season. Still, this is marked turf and as we enter the muscle part of
the stadium, the testosterone in the air is overpowering.

Did I know that players these days spend 80% of their training time
in the classroom? And so Burguieres shows me facilities that would be the
envy of the classiest executive conference center. Then I get to see the
weight-training room, the world's largest.

Bounding down the stairs in this temple of brawn, Burguieres and
Sage are bantering as I am scribbling. They are recalling the darkest
time of their lives. Now they can laugh. Back then, Burguieres had spent
three months at a prime mental health facility and was still feeling
grim. Sagehit bottom after financial reversals and the brutal murder of
his closest sibling. Then by chance they ran into each other. Neither
could believe the other was suffering from depression.

“But John,” Burguieres said to Sage, “you can't
be depressed. You were an All American football player. You're
tough.” Sage, equally dumbfounded, replied, “But Philip, how
can you be depressed. You've got all that money and that gorgeous
house.”

That moment alone was worth the trip. Two powerful guys doing
significant things in the world telling this story on themselves,
laughing about how they were both painfully, almost fatally, trapped in
the mythology of success and masculinity -- as we are racing through the
corridors of this palace of power.

Neither one reached that level of self-awareness overnight. It took
a couple of years. And only because they did it together -- shoulder to
shoulder, says Sage.

The bond they forged with each other was their passport out of
depression. And that's another irony. Everything in a CEO's
life -- motivation, success, the job itself -- is designed to set him apart.
And yet, that is an almost sure path to depression. It takes a strong guy
to realize that the cure is in connecting.