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Charles Johnson, former NFL player, deserves to be remembered


This is a straightforward story a few man you most likely didn’t know.

It isn’t the type of story that can draw great page views. It isn’t about a school football championship game. It isn’t power rankings or gossip about who will coach what team next. 

It is a story a few former NFL player named Charles Johnson. As you watch the playoffs starting this weekend and eventually the Super Bowl, you will notice lots of of players like him. Players who aren’t the celebrities but are still the lifeblood of the game. They are not at all times noticed (unless something goes improper). Their jerseys aren’t sold by the thousands and thousands. They practice hard, play hard and go home, only to do it many times and again. Then their careers are over and we mostly ignore them.

That is what happened to Johnson. He was a star receiver on the University of Colorado, but within the NFL he was a solid player for 4 teams from 1994-2003. Johnson, like many other players before him and since, was mostly invisible in his post-playing profession.

Then something terrible happened. Johnson, 50, was found dead in a hotel room about six miles from his house on July 17 in Raleigh, North Carolina. A report released on Monday from the state medical expert’s office ruled that Johnson had died by suicide.

Quietly, amid a flurry of big sports headlines over the past 48 hours, this ruling about Johnson’s death has gone almost unnoticed. But I don’t need that. I don’t need him to simply disappear into the night.

Not because I knew him well (I didn’t) but because I feel, occasionally, as we watch and love the NFL, we’d like to make use of moments like these to do not forget that football, while beautiful and graceful, can also be brutal and highly destructive to the body and mind.

Then, after the sport is over, some players realize there’s not much else they’ll do outside of football, and that takes an extra toll on their mental health. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young this week told the “Let’s Go!” podcast with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray that the day after retiring, “you are at the underside of a cliff in a broken sack of bones.”

It might be unfair to attract a direct correlation between football and Johnson taking his own life. It’s, nevertheless, accurate to say that football severely damaged his physical body, and based on the science, it’s secure to say it perhaps did damage to his mind, too.

“Within the previous week, he had been acting strange and had recently purchased a funeral and cremation service,” said the medical expert’s report, obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

MORE:Death of ex-NFL receiver Charles Johnson ruled a suicide by medical expert

MORE:Charles Johnson claimed he had brain problems years ago, before his death in July

‘DOESN’T MAKE SENSE’:Charles Johnson’s mysterious death baffles community

USA TODAY Sports’ Brent Schrotenboer reported in September that Johnson claimed to have suffered from brain, head, spine and neck injuries throughout his profession. He was considered permanently disabled because of football, based on documents filed as a part of a staff compensation case in California.

A highschool friend told USA TODAY Sports that Johnson said he was seeing a medical specialist to cope with issues related to go trauma from football. 

“It was the ringing in the pinnacle, perhaps one too many hits,” the friend, Doneka Buckner, said.

The report said Johnson had “acute oxycodone, hydrocodone and mirtazapine toxicity” after his death. There’s one other necessary fact: The report also said Johnson had paid for a hotel room, returned home, only to depart his home again leaving his wallet, cellphone, keys and vehicle at his house.

We do not know for certain if Johnson suffered from CTE. Nonetheless, as Chris Nowinski, a behavioral neuroscientist and the founding father of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, wrote recently within the Latest York Times, Boston University’s CTE Center study showed “that around 90 percent of the greater than 300 N.F.L. players they’ve studied since 2008 have had C.T.E., a neurodegenerative disease that’s linked with the event of dementia and is caused partially by repeated traumatic brain injuries. While it’s unlikely that those 300 N.F.L. players studied are representative of the full N.F.L. population, a separate evaluation has suggested the minimum prevalence in N.F.L. players is 10 percent, greater than 10 times what it’s in the final population…”

We watch these games. We love them, they usually are mostly played by men like Johnson: dutiful, hard-working and skilled. You will not see them in television ads or hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Then, suddenly, their careers are over they usually’re gone from the sport.

That’s what happened with Johnson until this tragedy. 

This is a straightforward story a few man you most likely didn’t know. Johnson was an NFL player and like so many others, deserves a moment of your time beyond what happens on the sphere.

Only a moment. It won’t take long.

For those who or someone you understand could also be scuffling with suicidal thoughts, you may call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) anytime, day or night. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis once they dial 741741.

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