This is such a tricky situation.
CTE is a real thing, but does that excuse bad behavior? Aaron Hernandez’s had the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia, but did that make him murder people?
I don’t have the answers, but stories like these from Larry Johnson are frightening.
Here is his story as told by the Washington Post.
It is early November, less than two weeks before his 38th birthday. He played his last game in 2011, and he now believes he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disorder linked to more than 100 former football players. For now, CTE can be confirmed only after death, but Johnson says his symptoms — anxiety, paranoia, the occasional self-destructive impulse — are consistent with those of past victims.
For the next half-hour, Johnson — prone to fits of volatility, jarring mood swings, extreme periods of silence — will say almost nothing.
There are widening chunks of his career that he can’t remember: Two full NFL seasons have disappeared from his memory, he says, and even some of his most memorable plays have grown hazy.
Johnson has a history of erratic behavior and violence: He has been arrested six times, and several of the incidents involved Johnson physically assaulting women. The ex-running back says his decision to publicly describe his darkest thoughts is meant not as a way to excuse his past but rather a way to begin a conversation with other former players who Johnson suspects are experiencing many of the same symptoms.
Johnson says he has considered violence toward others and himself.
He says he began experiencing symptoms of depression in college, and he sought to prove his toughness in nightclubs and fights with women. He tried to numb himself with alcohol, which took him deeper into the shadows.
“Me against everybody,” he says, and on and off the field that became his code, driving him to rush for a combined 3,539 yards in 2005 and ’06 . His dominance and persona made him an A-list celebrity and opened doors to a friendship with Jay-Z and dates with R&B singer Mýa.
Whether it was brain injuries, immaturity, celebrity or some combination, Johnson says aggression became “a switch I couldn’t shut off,” and after a while Jay-Z cut him off via email for being arrested so often, Johnson says, and Mýa once stopped him from jumping from a window.
“My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who’s me,” he’ll say, and he believes if he’s honest and tough with Jaylen, she’ll never accept anyone treating her the way her father treated women.
Trying to spend his way into new friends or purpose, Johnson says he sometimes dropped $50,000 in a night, torching his savings. In 2007, he signed a contract with the Chiefs that included $19 million in guaranteed money, but now, he says, he has enough for Jaylen’s college and for himself to get by, and not much more.
Distrustful of his own mind, Johnson says now that he wasn’t just annoyed by his chatty friends. He noticed himself staring at one of them, feeling a growing urge to punch him. Almost in a heartbeat, Johnson went from sociable and joyful to deeply angry and potentially violent — frightening, at least this time, only himself.
This is only a small part of this story and as you can see how depressing it really is.
I am not big into making excuses for people’s bad behavior but it is clear that Larry Johnson’s story might have a very bad ending.
I hope that isn’t the case, but I also hope young football players read this in its entirety.