The National Football League has had its fair share of bad apples among its lengthy list of players who have ever played for the organization, but some of those bad apples stand out a bit more than others. While it seems like every year there will be a player or two from your favorite football team that gets involved in some type of legal issue, they are generally pretty petty issues. But scattered throughout the history of the game are players who have committed the ultimate crime: murder. How one can ever take another persons life is something I’ll never comprehend, but there is certainly a pattern that involves substance abuse and mental instabilities involved with many of these former players.
Tragically, there are also players who have taken their own life. Many of these players were either depressed, facing other legal problems, in debt, or even suffering from an ever increasing brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Many of the names on this list were found to have suffered CTE posthumously. Let that fact sink in for a bit if you are having second thoughts about letting your child play football or not. Also, several of the players on this list that have taken someones life have also taken their own. Although this is a goofy sports article, if you or someone you know are ever in a dark place, please remember that mental health providers are out there waiting to help.
In saying that, let’s hope that no NFL player can become eligible to be added to this list for a long, long time. Enjoy.
15. Took Another: O.J. Simpson
I’m just going to address the elephant in the room and state that, yes, I am aware that OJ Simpson was never charged with murder and thus is deemed innocent under the law. But let’s be honest . . . OJ did it. Simpson was one of the greatest running backs the NCAA or NFL had ever seen. On the field, there was nothing like the “Juice” (OJ’s nickname) given his unique blend of size, speed, and skill. Off the field, OJ’s charisma was legendary and he was very much a household name.
But on June 12, 1994, his life would change forever after his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death outside of Nicole’s home in Los Angeles, California. LAPD wanted OJ to turn himself in as a person of interest, but instead OJ led them on a high speed chase through the city, all the while OJ was threatening to kill himself with his gun. OJ eventually turned himself in and was charged with the murders of Nicole and Ron. After nearly a year long trial, OJ was acquitted of the murder charges and became a free man again. Later he would release a book entitled, “[If] I did it, Confessions of the Killer.” OJ did it.
14. Took Their Own: Junior Seau
As tragic as all of the NFL suicides related to CTE and the long-term brain damage that football can cause, none hit the NFL world harder than the news that Junior Seau had taken his life. Being a resident of San Diego, I see first-hand the way that Seau was (and still is) revered by the fans here. He was a great football player and human being and sadly left this world far too soon.
While Seau will always be considered one of the greatest linebackers of all-time and an NFL Hall-of-Famer, his impact in death will also be remembered as a key moment for casual fans of the NFL to take step back and reevaluate the dangers of the game. When it was found out that Seau had shot himself in the chest in order to preserve his brain for CTE research, it shook people to their core. Is this game really this dangerous? Is it deadly? Should I allow my kids to play football? These questions became common place after Seau and will remain a hot topic for the immediate future.
13. Took Another: Aaron Hernandez
There was something systemically wrong with Aaron Hernandez. He was a psychopath, he had to be as nothing else explains the double life he was living in June of 2013. After becoming a key piece in the New England Patriots offense, the former standout tight-end was given a five-year, $40 million contract extension that included a $12.5 million signing bonus. Nearly one year later, Hernandez was under arrest for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
In what proved to be another prime-time trial, evidence was presented that painted a scene that Hernandez was a cold-blooded killer that shot Odin Lloyd execution style and left his body behind like a poorly executed Soprano’s hit. Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Fittingly, the prison was located only 1.5 miles away from Gillette Stadium, where Hernandez formerly starred on Sundays for the Patriots.
(Note: Yes, I’m aware of Massachusetts principle of abatement ab initio and that because Hernandez died (more on that below) before exhausting all of his appeals that Hernandez technically (and legally) died an innocent man. But like OJ, Hernandez did it.)
12. Took Their Own: Aaron Hernandez
Although Aaron Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd, he was acquitted of another double murder that occurred in 2012. This provided a bleak sign of hope for Hernandez as his attorney stated they planned to appeal the Odin Lloyd murder conviction next. This appeal will never take place, however, as Hernandez was found lifeless in his prison cell on April 19, 2017.
It was stated that Hernandez created a noose out of bed sheets and hung himself by the bars in his cell. Hernandez left several bizarre suicide notes, including one to his alleged homosexual lover who was a fellow prison inmate. There will always be speculation as to why Hernandez chose to take his life at the time he did. Many believe that his death was part of a plan to allow his family to possibly collect some of the guaranteed money from the contract he signed with the Patriots. Again, this is a possibility because under abatement ab initio, Hernandez died as an innocent man under the letter of the law.
11. Took Another: Donte Stallworth
This former first round draft pick for the New Orleans Saints spent his NFL career bouncing from team to team and never fully living up to the high expectations scouts had for him. But any chance of Donte Stallworth reviving his NFL career came to a sudden end when he was arrested for DUI vehicular manslaughter in Miami Beach on March 14, 2009.
On that fateful morning, Stallworth was driving under the influence (blood alcohol level of .12, well over the legal limit of .08) when he struck and killed 59-year-old Mario Reyes. It was reported that Reyes was illegally crossing the busy street when the collision happened, yet Stallworth took a plea deal in which he would spend 30 nights in jail and 8 years of probation. Roger Goddell also suspended Stallworth from the NFL for the entire 2009 season. Stallworth never bounced back and was out of the league by 2012. Of the many names on this list, Stallworth may have the highest moral compass and fully accepted that he is wrong.
10. Took Their Own: Terry Long
After being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 1984 NFL Draft, Terry Long went on to play for eight successful seasons for the Steelers. Long was a starting offensive lineman for the majority of his career, even somehow regaining his starting spot in 1991 after a failed steroid drug test caused him to attempt suicide. While he was able to overcome that attempt to take his own life, he would ultimately take his life in 2005.
Shortly after Long died in 2005, an autopsy was performed that showed major swelling in his brain. It was first suggested that Long died from complications of playing football for so many years and that it caused his brain to suffer damage that ultimately caused his death. However, it was later revealed that Long actually died from drinking a gallon of Antifreeze liquid. A theory was later discussed that Long’s brain showed signs of CTE from years of football and that he killed himself due to ongoing depression associated with CTE. Whatever the reasoning, it’s a tragic situation.
9. Took Another: Lawrence Phillips
Perhaps one of the most craziest stories in NFL history belongs to Lawrence Phillips. Phillips was a two-time National Champion at Nebraska and his college success turned him into the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Rams. Phillips was released from the Rams after only one and half seasons as he was unable to stay out of trouble and reportedly played several times while intoxicated. He then bounced around the NFL and NFL Europe before landing a final shot with the San Francisco 49ers. He is best remembered for his failure to pick up a blitz against the Arizona Cardinals, which led to a massive and career ending hit on quarterback Steve Young.
After his NFL career concluded, Phillips off the field issues escalated. He committed numerous crimes in 2005 and 2006 and was ultimately sentenced to 31 years in prison in 2009. In 2015, Phillips’ cell mate was found dead in the cell they shared and Phillips was obviously the number one suspect. He was officially charged with murder on November 9, 2015. Prosecutor’s sought the death penalty. (Read below to find out whether Phillips’ was found guilty).
8. Took Their Own: Lawrence Phillips
While the awaiting trial for the murder of his cell mate, Damion Soward (who ironically had a brother playing in the NFL), Phillips again made headlines for tragic reasons. On January 12, 2016, Phillips was found unresponsive in his prison cell as a result of an attempted suicide. It was later determined that Phillips hanged himself and had a “Do Not Resuscitate” note taped to his chest. The suicide came one day after the judge in the murder trial had ruled there was enough evidence to continue the case against Phillips.
It’s undeniable that Phillips had the talent to be one of the better running back in NFL history had he been able to correct his own personal issues. His propensity for crime overpowered his unique and amazing skill set. There are numerous documentaries on the rise and demise of Phillips. If interested in this crazy story, the documentary “Running for His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story” is a good one to watch.
7. Took Another: Rae Carruth
Rae Carruth was a standout receiver for the University of Colorado before being drafted with the #27 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 1997 NFL Draft. Carruth had a good rookie season and was named to the all-rookie team and was developing into a solid NFL receiver when all hell broke loose in 1999.On November 16, 1999, Carruth’s girlfriend, Cherica Adams, was shot four times by Van Brett Watkins Sr., near Carruth’s home in North Carolina.
It was reported that Adams was driving behind Carruth when Carruth stopped his car in the middle of the road. When Adams stopped behind him, Watkins pulled up to the side of her car and shot her. Both Carruth and Watkins then drove away from the scene. While Adams died from her injuries, her baby was able to survive but suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy due to the trauma involved with his forced birth. Carruth attempted to flee the police but was ultimately found hiding in his trunk in Tennessee on December 15, 1999. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 18-24 years.
6. Took Their Own: Andre Waters
When fans think of “old-school” styles of football, Andre Waters is a name that often comes to mind. Waters was one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL during the 1980-90’s. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals in his career, teaming with legendary defensive coach Buddy Ryan in both locations. For his career, Waters finished with 15 career interceptions.
After his playing career came to an end, Waters dabbled in coaching at the collegiate level in hopes that he would one day become an NFL head coach. Unfortunately, Waters never got that chance as he committed suicide by gunshot at his home in Florida. Waters’ brain was posthumously donated to the NFL brain study where it was determined that Waters suffered CTE. It was stated that his brain tissue had degenerated to the level of a 90-year-old man. Waters was only 44 at the time of his death.
5. Took Another: Anthony Smith
Anthony Smith played for both the University of Arizona and University of Alabama before being drafted with the #11 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft by the Raiders. Smith had a strong, albeit short-lived, NFL career from 1990 to 1997, when he voluntarily left the NFL. Smith was productive when on the field (57.5 sacks in 98 career games) and signed a big contract extension of $7.6 million in 1994. After retiring, however, Smith clearly lost his mind.
In 2011, Smith was one of three people charged with the murder of a Lancaster, California man who had been shot and had his body dumped into a large poppy field. If that weren’t enough, Smith was subsequently charged with the murders of three other individuals. For two of those victims, Smith portrayed himself as a cop in order to abduct them before torturing and ultimately killing them. Smith was sentenced to three life sentences and will never see the light of day again. I think we can all be thankful that this psycho is off the streets.
4. Took Their Own: Dave Duerson
As one of the leaders for the iconic 1985 Chicago Bears defense, Dave Duerson is cemented in NFL history. Duerson was terrific in his NFL career and finished with 4 Pro-Bowl nominations, 2 Super Bowls, and 1 NFL Man of the Year Award. After his playing career, Duerson became a successful business man, but remained close to the NFL as he became a player representative on the NFL panel that reviewed retired players’ disability and dementia programs.
He was portrayed in the Hollywood movie “Concussion” as a villain who was tasked with deciding which players should and shouldn’t receive disability payments, including a scene where he allegedly told Andre Waters (above) that if he has a headache he should go see a doctor and stop blaming the NFL. Ironically, Duerson ended up committing suicide by shooting himself in the chest so that his brain could be donated to the CTE study. It was later confirmed by neurologist that Duerson did in fact suffer from CTE.
3. Took Another: Josh Brent
Josh Brent is a former defensive lineman selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2010 Supplement Draft, which he entered into because he was academically ineligible to play in his Senior season at the University of Illinois. Brent surprisingly made the Cowboys roster and even became a starter during the 2012 season. This Cinderella story seemed to be going perfect when tragedy struck on December 8, 2012.
At around 2:21 a.m. on December 8, 2012, Brent and fellow Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown were driving on Texas State Highway 114 when their car suddenly flipped. It was determined that Brent was driving drunk and at dangerous speeds of up to 134 mph. When police arrived on the scene, they saw Brent attempting to pull Brown’s body from the mangled car. Brown died from the injuries he sustained. Brent was later convicted of intoxication manslaughter. This is just another unfortunate reminder that nobody should ever drink and drive.
2. Took Another (And Their Own): Jovan Belcher
Jovan Belcher was a former undrafted free agent of the Kansas City Chiefs who had worked his way into the Chiefs lineup and was making a decent career for himself. However, in November of 2012, it was reported that Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, had gotten into a fierce argument that carried over from night time to the early morning. On the morning of December 1, 2012, Belcher shot Perkins a total of 9 times, killing her in front of their three month old child and Belcher’s mother.
After killing Perkins, Belcher drove to the Chiefs practice facility near Arrowhead Stadium where he was confronted by Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and several other Chiefs coaches. They saw he had a gun to his head and were trying to convince him to put the gun down. As police approached the practice facility, Belcher knelt down next to his parked Bentley and shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
1. Killed: Robert Rozier
This is one that needed to be included simply because of the complete and utter insanity involved in Robert Rozier’s story. Rozier was a defensive end for the Cardinals (back when they played in St. Louis) for only six games before being released for personal issues. Good call on that one Cardinals. Rozier spent one more season playing Canadian football before he officially went off the deep end.
After his football playing days ended, Rozier joined Yahweh ben Yahweh’s cult in 1982. Yahweh is a secret group that requires each member to murder a “white devil” and bring one of their body parts back to the group in order to join. Rozier was eventually arrested and charged with murder in 1986, to which he admitted to killing at least seven white people. Rozier became a snitch against the Yahweh brotherhood and only served 10 years in prison for his murders. Don’t worry though, in 1999 Rozier was involved in crime again and received his “third strike” meaning he is sentenced to 25 years to life now. Crazy!
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