If I were to start this by asking what you think a tragedy is, I’d sound like a college essay prompt. But when everywhere I look, I see people talking about Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett’s stay in Las Vegas, I can’t help but think that in itself was a tragedy.
In Nevada for August’s Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight, Bennett says he was nearly arrested and shot – specifically, a cop threatened to blow “his ____ head off” – simply for being a black man near what sounded like a gun shot.
“It sucks that in the country that we live in now, sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin,” Bennett said in a news conference earlier this week. “It’s a tough situation for me. Do I think every police officer is bad? No, I don’t believe that. Do I believe there’s some people out there that judge people on the color of their skin? I do believe that.”
There’s plenty of conversations to have about this incident – and I promise, we will talk about this later – but for now, let’s discuss some of the NFL’s other tragedies. With so many of these topics being subjective, let’s keep in mind that this is not a definitive ranking of tragedies; the seventh tragedy on this list isn’t necessarily worse than the tenth. We’re simply discussing 16 NFL tragedies – the standard 15 and an additional one that needs to be mentioned despite it not quite fitting the criteria – that range from the loss of children to family being murdered.
If you feel you’re going to get upset about something not being higher, then pretend the numbers don’t exist.
16. Honorable Mention: The Concussion Era
There’s a legitimate argument to be made for the concussion era, the after-effects of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), and how concussions have led to the suicides of players such as Junior Seau. However, because this is an issue that has affected so many players and the league as a whole, we’re going to give it an honorable mention and simply note how damaging this has been for so many parties. The problems with CTE were portrayed on the big screen in the film Concussion, which documented Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of CTE in several NFL players’ brains and how more had to be done to prevent concussions whenever possible. The league has definitely come a long way, but the the risks will always be there with a physical sport like football.
15. Quentin Moses Burns to Death
One of the more recent tragedies on this list, former Georgia Bulldogs and Miami Dolphins defensive end Quentin Moses – once a 2007 third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders cut that same season (oh, Lane) – died earlier this year battling a house fire in Monroe, Georgia. Only 33 when he died and set to turn 34 this November, Moses was attempting to save Andrea Godard – the wife of his best friend, Xavier – and their 10-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
“(Quentin and Xavier) were pretty much inseparable,” former Cedar Shoals High School (Athens, Ga.) teammate Kamau Hull said. “Off the field, they were just as close as could be, but on the field, they were both just the ultimate competitors.”
14. Reno Mahe loses his daughter
Philadelphia Eagles fans will remember this All-Pro punt returner and key special teams contributor for the Birds from 2003-07 – and a solid change-of-pace running back that averaged 4.2 yards per carry on the ground under Andy Reid – but some may forget Reno Mahe’s personal tragedy last year. Currently the running backs coach at Brigham Young University, Mahe lost his 3-year-old daughter, Elsie, when a cord from the window blinds became tangled around her neck, causing extensive brain damage that not even her mother, Sunny, could fix via CPR.
What makes this tragedy so devastating is that this wasn’t a child playing with blinds or even wanting to attempt suicide, but a cord simply came undone and wrapped around her neck. Nothing could be done, nothing could fix it, and the family donated her organs following her death. That’s as heartbreaking as it gets for a young father.
13. D’Onta Foreman loses his son
Sticking with young fathers, what happened to current Houston Texans rookie D’Onta Foreman during his final season with the Texas Longhorns is absolutely devastating. Last September, Foreman and his girlfriend welcomed a baby boy, D’Onta Jr., to the world prematurely; while the baby was expected to pull through and be healthy, an infection resulted in Foreman Jr. passing away less than two months later.
It wasn’t until this past April when the senior Foreman, talking with NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer, explained what had happened. “I really didn’t know how to feel,” Foreman told Kremer. “I was like numb. I felt like something was taken away from me before I had a chance to experience it.”
12. Keion Carpenter’s sudden coma
With stories like this, you hate to use words like “strange” or “bizarre” because their meanings can easily get lost, but those words would fit Keion Carpenter’s fatal 2015 coma. Running with his son to the family’s car, Carpenter grabbed onto the car before falling backwards, hitting his head, and suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance. Roughly 34 hours later, Carpenter died of what the coroner and the autospy report listed as acute epidural hematoma caused by head trauma
Again, this story is bizarre because there are so many different aspects of what went wrong, but you really have to feel for Carpenter’s family here. All the guy was doing was having fun with his son before collapsing, hitting his head, having a heart attack, and dying. Absolutely heartbreaking.
11. Matt Bryant loses his son
Some have joked that with his age and gray hairs, Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant looks like a grizzled war veteran that’s seen his fair share of tragedy. Little do those people know that nearly a decade ago, Bryant did in fact experience tragedy when his three-month-old son, Matthew Tyrson, passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in his sleep.
For those unaware, SIDS is exactly what it sounds like: an infant suddenly dying, usually in their cribs. Doctors have suggested possible reasoning being defects in the brain that affects breathing and sleeping, but you don’t need a WebMD explanation to know how tragic this is. A day after the funeral, Bryant kicked three field goals in a 30-21 win over the Green Bay Packers.
“The biggest thing for me, I wanted to honor Tryson’s name,” Bryant said. “I mean, I don’t think it was very fair for his life to end so short. This is the best way I believe I could get out and honor him. I miss him and wish he was here, but he was here with me. He helped out.”
10. Randall Cunningham’s son drowns
Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham has seen several of his children go into athletics, with Randall Cunningham II becoming a famous track runner at USC and his daughter, Vashti, showing off athleticism as a World Indoor Champion. However, one of Cunningham’s children was robbed of the opportunity to live a full life as 2-year-old Christian died in a hot tub – often used by the All-Pro quarterback-turned-baptist for baptisms – in 2010.
“He was always active and running around, smiling and giving everybody hugs and jumping on their laps,” a family friend told ABCNews.com. “He was so full of life. He was not only the Cunningham child, he was also the church’s child. He trusted everybody.”
9. Will Smith and Joe McKnight meet tragic ends
Someone is going to make a two for the price of one joke here, but the incidents involving former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith and New York Jets running back Joe McKnight are too similar to put as different entries.
– Smith was involved in a traffic collision on April 9, 2016 with 28-year-old Cardell Hayes where Hayes’ Hummer rear-ended Smith’s Mercedes. Hayes and Smith exchanged words following a second collision, with the former killing the Super Bowl champion and injuring his wife, Racquel. On April 20 of this year, Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the charge of manslaughter and an additional 15 (which would be served in parallel) for the charge of attempted manslaughter.
– At an intersection in Terrytown, Lousiana, McKnight was shot by 54-year-old Ronald Gasser last December 1 during a road rage shooting. Gasser reportedly shot McKnight, then told him, “I told you not to f— with me” and fired another shot at the unarmed former running back. Gasser was indicted by a grand jury of second degree murder in February 2017.
8. William Gay fights domestic violence
I could very easily explain this, but I think Steelers defensive back William Gay’s 2015 explanation for why he’d continue to wear purple shoes despite the fine that came with them says it all.
“When I was 8, I lost my mother. She was shot three times by my stepfather, fatally, before he also killed himself. My mother didn’t know she was in an abusive relationship until it was too late; she didn’t know what domestic violence was, let alone how to get help. Awareness, to me, is everything.
And so when I wore those cleats, people noticed. People asked about it. During the game one official actually came up to me and asked me why I had purple shoes on. Later, he told me, ‘I really appreciate what you’re doing.'”
7. Antonio Armstrong killed by son
Of the tragedies on this list, the 2016 double-murder of former Miami Dolphins linebacker Antonio Armstrong and his wife, Dawn, has the most mystery to it – and, depending on how you view things, one of the more heartbreaking aspects as it was their 16-year-old son who shot them both. Originally, Antonio Armstrong Jr. – or A.J., as he was known – attempted to start a fire in the family’s two-story Texas home before shooting both in the head, instantly killing the mother and putting the father in critical condition.
This spring, Armstrong Jr. was being charged as an adult and waived his right for probable cause, but to see a child killing their parents in anything but self-defense is horrific. Armstrong Jr. faces life in prison, though the death penalty was not an option because of his age at the time of the murder.
6. Chris Johnson loses his sister in shootout
Like William Gay and his story about domestic violence, former Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson’s story about the 2011 murder of his sister, Jennifer, is one you need to read. The basic details: Jennifer, 33, was shot in Fort Worth by her estranged boyfriend, who also shot Johnson’s mother.
“She and I were closer than anybody else. She was a really big part of our family,” Johnson said of his sister in 2012. “She was like the molder. If something went wrong between me and my mom or my other sister, she would always mold the family back together. She was, I guess, the peacemaker.
“She was just a joyful young lady. If a person didn’t know her and she walked into a room, in 15 or 20 minutes, by the time she had met everybody, it would be like you had known her for 15 or 20 years. She had a very bright, intelligent mind; she spoke well.”
5. Korey Stringer’s premature death
One of the more infamous tragedies of this list, former first-round offensive lineman and 2000 Pro Bowler Korey Stringer suffered heat stroke during the team’s 2001 preseason camp in Mankato, Minnesota, and died. Obviously, heat stroke is always going to be a concern in football training camp, especially when you’re in those heavy pads in 100 degree weather with humidity.
But, the pads are important to this tragedy because Riddell, who manufactured Stringer’s pads and helmet, failed to inform the lineman that their equipment could potentially lead to heat injuries. Stringer’s death also changed the NFL’s culture on peer pressure regarding weight – Stringer’s 335 pounds was the lowest he’d been at in his career – and practice sessions not being as serious and intense. Next summer, when you ask why a team is practicing in lighter colors, you have your answer.
4. Michael Bennett vs. Las Vegas Police Department
Well, we already spoke about the specifics of this incident earlier, so let’s talk about why this is a tragedy up there with the likes of children dying, players being murdered, and everything else on this list. Even if the argument is Michael Bennett shouldn’t have been running from the police, the idea of a police officer – with everything going on in the world and all of the police/black men incidents in recent years – turning his body camera off and threatening to blow someone’s “f—ing” head off is disgusting.
Say what you want about Colin Kaepernick and if he could have handled his protest better, but this is why he knelt in the first place. You don’t even have to bring race into this conversation to know how badly an incident like this looks, not only for the Las Vegas Police Department, but the black male in general.
3. Todd Heap accidentally kills his daughter
Whether this story was five months old or five years old, it’d be hard to forget a tragedy like this. While moving his truck in Mesa, Arizona, retired Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap drove forward and hit something – his 3-year-old daughter, who died in a local hospital.
What else is there to say about a tragedy like this? All Heap was doing was moving his car and he winds up ending the life of his daughter, the love of his life. When I think of NFL tragedies, this is going to be one that almost always will come to mind because it fits the definition. This shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen and the girl died, why? Because she was playing in the driveway? Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Heap family five months later…
2. Adrian Peterson loses his son
For good reason (also known as a 2014 suspension), we tend to think of sticks and the child abuse argument when Adrian Peterson’s son comes to mind. However, that makes it easy to forget that a year earlier, Peterson lost his 2-year-old son, Tyrese Ruffin, when the child was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend, Joseph Patterson in South Dakota. The boy and his mother lived there during the season, while Peterson lived in Minnesota.
Patterson was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, and aggravated battery after a three-week trial in 2015.
“God wants good to come from it,” Peterson texted Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin before a game several days later. “We mourn and grieve, but heaven had the baddest welcoming party for my son. That knowledge gives me peace. I’m still hurt and feel the pain of life. “But I’m able to function because of the peace and joy of knowing my loved ones are in a much better place.”
1. Torrey Smith Wins One For His Brother
We could talk about then-Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith losing his 19-year-old brother Tevin in a motorcycle crash hours before the Ravens hosted the New England Patriots. We could talk about Smith catching two touchdowns in a 31-30 win on Sunday Night Football where the crowd chanted “TOR-REY, TOR-REY!” But, we’ll let Smith tell us his story from 2015, three years to the day he lost his brother. (Note: the actual blog post was lost after SportsBlog, the host site, underwent several changes)
“After much thought and support from my family, I decided to play. That game was very emotional for me. The love I received from my team and fans was overwhelming. I’ll never forget it. … On this day I lost my brother, but I learned to appreciate everyday more and actually tell people how I feel about them. Before he had passed away I had just started telling my family that I loved them. It was already understood but I realized it’s different when you actually hear it.”
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