The NFL is one of the top sports leagues in the world and the most popular sports league in the United States. More and more kids aspire to play in the NFL one day, but it will take a lot of hard work, bumps, bruises, challenges, and more to get in a position to be drafted in the league. Some players have to get through adversity even before making it in the NFL. They use these tragedies and adversity as inspiration and motivation to achieve their goal.
William Gay of the Pittsburgh Steelers lost his mother to domestic violence when he was a kid while Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was just nine years old when his father was murdered. Gay went on to win a Super Bowl championship while Evans is one of the best young wide receivers today. Gun violence also leads to deaths of many loved ones, as experienced by current players such as the Indianapolis Colts’ Robert Turbin and the Cleveland Browns’ Danny Shelton.
Life after the NFL, on the other hand, is not guaranteed to be always full of happiness. Former Chicago Bears star defensive tackle Tommie Harris abruptly retired after losing his wife while CFL legend Doug Flutie’s parents died on the same day. Freak accidents happen and it just so happens that an NFL player had to endure it. The NFL is a brotherhood and everyone has shown support whenever a tragedy involving a current or former player happens.
Here are the 15 NFL players, current and former, who tragically lost their loved ones.
15 Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie is a former Heisman Trophy winner and he had a solid career as a quarterback in the NFL and CFL that spanned for 20 years. Flutie last played for the New England Patriots in 2005 and he was the primary backup for Tom Brady. He was more successful in the CFL, becoming the first non-Canadian athlete to be inducted into the country’s Sports Hall of Fame. He is also a part of the College Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Flutie’s tragedy struck ten years after he retired when his parents passed away from heart attacks one hour apart. His father, Dick, was hospitalized with an illness before suffering a heart attack in the hospital. An hour later, Flutie’s mother, Joan, suddenly died because of a heart attack. The couple was married for 56 years.
14 Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is one of the greatest running backs to have ever played the game. Peterson is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro and the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player with the Minnesota Vikings. The 32-year-old star suffered a tragic loss on October 11, 2013, when his 2-year-old son died from injuries sustained from an assault. The suspect was Joseph Robert Patterson, the boyfriend of the boy’s mother. Peterson had never met his son and he only learned about him several weeks before his tragic death. Peterson also has had his fair shares of controversy as he was charged with a misdemeanour for assaulting his four-year-old son in 2014. Peterson is currently trying to revitalize his career with the Arizona Cardinals after barely playing for the New Orleans Saints this season.
13 C.J. Spiller
The Kansas City Chiefs are giving C.J. Spiller another chance after signing him this season. Spiller, a former ninth overall pick by the Bills in 2010, is a running back with a Pro Bowl selection under his name. After five seasons in Buffalo, Spiller has bounced around the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, and New York Jets before landing in Kansas City this season. The tragedy in Spiller’s life happened on August 24, 2013, when his step-grandfather went on a shooting spree before committing suicide. Hubert Allen Jr. killed his 80-year-old former boss and a 28-year-old former co-worker. Allen also injured two more people during his rampage before coming home to kill himself. Spiller was given time off by the Bills after the incident and he has never talked about the tragedy with the media.
12 Tommie Harris
Tommie Harris spent eight seasons in the NFL after getting drafted 14th overall by the Chicago Bears in 2004. Harris quickly became one of the best Defensive Tackles in the league in his second year, earning three straight Pro Bowl selections from 2005 to 2007. Harris spent the first seven years of his career with the Bears before signing as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 2011 but it turned out to be his final season in the NFL. Harris abruptly retired following the tragic death of his wife Ashley on February 12, 2012. Ashley, who was only 29 years old at that time, died due to an unexplained brain aneurysm and she left two children with Harris. What makes it more tragic is they got married in January of that year, a couple of months after their second child was born.
11 William Gay
At the age of 32 years old, William Gay is one of the veteran cornerbacks on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster for the 2017 NFL season. Gay has spent 10 of his 11 seasons with the Steelers and he helped the team beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 to win Super Bowl XLIII. Gay made headlines in 2015 when he shared his story with the Women's Centre and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Gay was just seven years old when his mother, Carolyn Hall, left his stepfather because of domestic violence. However, the stepfather tracked her down on March 14, 1992, and shot her three times before committing suicide. Gay almost went down the wrong path due to the tragedy but he received support from his grandmother and uncle. He has since used the tragic death of his mother to help raise awareness on domestic violence.
10 Reno Mahe
Reho Mahe was signed as an undrafted free agent running back and return specialist in 2003 out of Brigham Young University by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mahe played a total of five seasons with the Eagles and he earned All-Pro first team selection in 2005. He retired in 2007 to take care of his wife, Sunny, and a growing family. Mahe ended up getting hired as a running backs coach at BYU in January 2016 but tragedy struck ten months later. Mahe’s 3-year-old daughter, Elsie, was found unconscious on November 22, 2016, with her neck tangled with cords from window blinds. Elsie suffered extensive brain damage and she died a week later. Mahe and his wife decided to donate some of Elsie’s organs to save others. The 37-year-old coach still has seven children after the tragic death of his daughter.
9 James Winchester
On November 15, 2016, former Southwest Airlines employee Lloyd Dean Buie went to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City with a rifle. Buie shot Michael Winchester, but it was unclear if he was the shooter’s intended target. Winchester, a former punter for the University of Oklahoma, was an employee of Southwest Airlines at the time of the shooting. He was also the father of James Winchester, the long snapper for the Kansas City Chiefs. Michael was 52 years old at the time of his death while the suspect, who committed suicide after the shooting, was 45 years old. James clearly followed the footsteps of his father as he also played for the Sooners during his collegiate career. The 28-year-old long snapper went undrafted in 2013 but he was signed by the Chiefs in 2015. James signed a five-year extension to stay in Kansas City earlier this year.
8 Todd Heap
A first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, Todd Heap played in the NFL for 12 seasons before retiring at the end of the 2012 NFL season. Heap was with the Ravens for ten seasons wherein he was a two-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro. He was also voted as the 2006 NFL Alumni Tight End of the Year. He played his final two years with the Arizona Cardinals. In one of the most heartbreaking stories of the year, Heap tragically lost his youngest daughter Holly Alivia last February 14 in a freak accident. Heap was moving his car in their driveway when he hit his 3-year-old daughter. She was taken to a hospital but died due to the injuries she sustained. Todd and his wife, Ashley, have three more children, a daughter and twin sons.
7 Steve Longa
An undrafted player from the 2016 NFL Draft, Steve Longa was signed as a free agent linebacker by the Seattle Seahawks but he never played a down for them. Longa became a part of the Detroit Lions last season and he signed a reserve/future contract earlier this year. He is the son of Etienne Longa, a former soccer player from Cameroon. Etienne is the latest loved one of an NFL player that tragically died. He was killed after getting hit by a car on September 28 in Pennsylvania and his death was ruled as an accident. Steve moved to the United States to join his father in 2007. The two were very close despite being separated by an ocean for many years. Etienne got to watch his son play in Week 2 when the Lions visited the New York Giants.
6 Danny Shelton
One of the best college players in 2015, Danny Shelton was drafted 12th overall by the Cleveland Browns. Shelton was a three-time Academic All-Pac-12 first team and an Academic All-American in 2014. But before he became an NFL player, he had to get through a personal tragedy. Shelton’s brother, Shennon, was shot in the head on May 1, 2011. The incident happened after an altercation that also involved him and his other brother, Gaston, in an apartment complex in Auburn, Washington. The suspect, Olenthis Woods, shot Gaston in the chest before killing Shennon. Gaston was able to survive while Shennon died instantly. However, Woods was not charged after claiming that it was self-defence. Danny was able to overcome all the anger from the incident and turned it into a positive four years later by reaching the NFL.
5 Vic Beasley Jr.
A big part of the Atlanta Falcons last season, Vic Beasley Jr. was named Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. Beasley was the NFL sacks leader with 15.5 but the Falcons failed to win the Super Bowl after blowing a 25-point lead to the New England Patriots. It was a disappointing loss for Beasley and the Falcons but it was nothing compared to the tragedies he had to endure in his young life. Beasley had to endure the loss of his brother, uncle, and father. His older half-brother, Tyronne Barrett, died in a car crash on February 1, 2014. His uncle, who was a pastor and a big influence in his life, succumbed to cancer a couple of months later. Vic Sr., a former Auburn player, suffered from cirrhosis due to his alcohol abuse and died in April last year.
4 Adrian Wilson
Adrian Wilson is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a one-time first-team All-Pro with the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson played for the Cardinals for 11 seasons before signing a three-year deal with the New England Patriots. However, Wilson suffered an injury before the 2013 NFL season and he was released by the Patriots the next season after not playing a single down. He tried coming back with the Chicago Bears but he was also released before the season started. Wilson retired in 2015 after signing a one-day contract with the Cardinals. The 38-year-old strong safety lost three loved ones due to gun violence. He lost his 16-year-old brother and his friend when he was a teenager while another friend committed suicide. His brother, William, was shot five times because of his involvement in drugs. Wilson turned his life around after the tragedies and he went on to become one of the best players in Cardinals history.
3 Robert Turbin
Another victim of gun violence was Robert Turbin’s brother. Turbin, a running back for the Colts, lost his brother, Lonnie, in 2012 when he was still a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Lonnie was addicted to heroin and he was killed in a shooting incident in Oakland, their hometown. Turbin also lost his sister, Trina, due to multiple sclerosis when she was 21 years old. The 27-year-old running back has moved forward and he has made sure that his half-brother, Terry Jones, got out of Oakland. Turbin also had to take care of an older sister, Tiffany, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. In his two seasons in Seattle, he served as the backup to Marshawn Lynch and he helped the team defeat the Denver Broncos in 2014 to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Tubin went on to play for the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys before signing with the Colts last season.
2 Mike Evans
One of the top young wide receivers in the NFL today, Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season. Evans was also named to the All-Pro second team last season and his fifth-year option was picked up by the Buccaneers. Despite his recent success, Evans has had an emotional and difficult journey to the NFL. Evan was nine years old when his uncle, Sam Kilgore, murdered his father, Mickey, while he and his sister were asleep upstairs in their home in Texas. Evans was angry at Kilgore but he eventually learned why his uncle did it. Mickey was abusing Heather Kilgore, Mike’s mother, which led to the murder. It took some time but Mike has learned to forgive his uncle for what he did to his father.
1 Dan Williams
Dan Williams is currently a free agent but he has lived out his father’s dream of him playing for the Oakland Raiders. Williams was part of the Raiders for two seasons before becoming a free agent this offseason. His father, Thomas, was a big fan of the Raiders but he was not able to see his son play for his favourite team. Thomas died in a car accident on September 20, 2013, on his way to a game between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. Williams was a 26th overall pick by the Cardinals in 2010 and he played in Arizona for five seasons. The Cardinals gave their full support for Williams after losing his father to the accident that left his mother and sister injured. Thomas was thrown about five feet out of the vehicle because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Williams’ mother and sister made a full recovery.