NFL Player Commits Suicide: The Fifth One in Two Years – Is This a Trend?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins,

In what some think might be a disturbing trend, a fifth NFL player has committed suicide in the last two years.  OJ Murdock of the Tennessee Titans becomes the latest athlete to kill himself, setting off alarm bells for those who worry that the mental health of NFL athletes is increasingly deteriorated due to a variety of factors, including head trauma from taking so many hits.

Murdock shot himself while sitting in his car on Monday, parked outside of Middleton High School in Tampa.   He was found in critical condition and taken to the hospital at 8:30 am, suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The 25-year old Mudock signed with the Tennessee Titans one year ago, but never played a single game.  Around 3:30 am, Murdock sent a text message to Fort Hays State receivers coach Al McCray.

“It was like, ‘Coach, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family,’” the coach told the Tampa Bay Times.

“At the end of the text he said, ‘I apologize.’ I figured he’s apologizing because he texted me so early.”

The coach says that Murdock seemed to be in good spirits just days before the incident took place.   As a receiver at Middleton High School, Murdock was rated the 10th best wide receiver in the nation.  He only played four games for the University of South Carolina, however.  He was arrested for shoplifting in a Florida Department store and suspended from the team.

Murdock finished his college career with Pearl River Community College in Mississippi and then Fort Hays State in Kansas. During his senior year, he had 60 catches for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans, but never suited up for them.   The Titans issued this statement.

“We are shocked and saddened to hear of O.J. Murdock’s death this morning.  In his brief time here, a number of our players, coaches and staff had grown close to O.J., and this is a difficult time for them. He spent the last year battling back from an Achilles injury as he prepared for this year’s training camp. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends as they try to cope with this tragedy.”

Murdock is the fifth NFL athlete to commit suicide in the last two years, and numerous lawsuits are now being filed for head injuries players suffer during their careers.

Junior Seau, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson all died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds over the last 18 months.  Wade Belak hanged himself in August.  Easterling and Duerson were found to have significant brain damage at the time of their deaths.  Duerson even sent a text message to family right before killing himself, asking that they donate his brain for study when he died.

Ray Easterling had been coping with dementia, a common ailment among former NFL athletes who’ve suffered brain damage from taking so many hits to the head.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as “Punch Drunk Syndrome,” affects many former football players and boxers.  It is associated with several symptoms, including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.

The African American community is heavily affected by this problem, since so many of our boys are yanked into Pee Wee league football the minute they show any sign of athletic ability. Like soldiers being recruited to die, they are then sent down a path in which stereotypical athletic achievement ends up trumping the desire to fulfill academic potential.  Not every black boy gets caught in this trap, but far too many do.  You probably know these boys in your own communities.

After giving up everything in order to pursue a pipe dream of playing in the NFL, many of these boys end up as lost, marginalized men, unable to adequately provide for a wife and children. The so-called “lucky ones” end up in a league where they get the “pleasure” of banging their heads repeatedly until their brains turn into mashed potatoes.  So, even when you fulfill the dream of playing in the NFL, you often find that’s nothing but another negro nightmare.

This is not to be critical of those who love sports, but we must be sure to educate black boys on the fact that the NFL dream is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  Even if you are one of the few men who get a chance to play in the league, you may later end up looking back and wishing you never had.  There are easier ways to get rich in America for black men:  We can start by using our brains instead of letting big corporations pay us to destroy them.  Education is the key out of slavery.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.




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17 Responses to NFL Player Commits Suicide: The Fifth One in Two Years – Is This a Trend?

  1. Jacqueline July 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    What a shame. He was so young. And haven’t really played. The NFL need to try to get to the bottom of these deaths. This can’t be taken lightly.

  2. Damion Caldwell July 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm


  3. C July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    The cause of this is CTL(chronic traumatic encephalitis). This results from constant trauma to the brain related to playing football.

  4. WizardG July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Psychology and the machinations of the brain will explain why humans are so violent and mentally twisted, but there is no way to reach the massive number of sick individuals here and abroad! There are too many distorted variables of which the mind can be influenced, and because most of us are already mentally imbalanced to one extent or another, for some, it only takes a little more confusion and psychotic twists to go over the edge and do something to oneself and/or to others.
    We can keep asking ‘why’ all day, while the answers are all brain related where the diagnosis and treatments are as numerous as the symptoms. My condolences to the family and friends of this, another lost young man.

  5. Kim July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Suicide is not the answer. if I can survive with what the crooked EEOc done to me even thouh I went into complete poverty, surely NFL players can withstand what ever they are enduring. this is so SAD!

  6. leh July 30, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    What a waste of one beautiful young man! I am in tears!

  7. BlacknProud July 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    It’s about time football, boxing and any other sport or activity causing trauma to the head or body is finally getting attention. It is so tragic that it took those men mentioned above taking their lives and the condition of Muhammad Ali to bring light to this issue before it’s taken serious. It’s also time for doctors and the health industry to stop minimizing and labeling concussions as minor if there is no lost of consciousness. Many of those mentioned were not knocked out or lost consciouness, but non the less sustained obvious serious injury that went ignored for a long time resulting in a tragic end. Clearly we as a people need to educate ourselves and our young boys/men considering the overwhelming number of our boys/youngmen at very early ages engaging in these sports with such tragic endings.

  8. MRS PAMALA FIZER July 30, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    **Another Negro Nightmare**…**The real nightmare is America…you may not understand how it feels to be 10th in the nation…but treated as a pass-over-push-over…If these institutions of mis-learning would provide monetary allowances in addition to scholarships…perhaps shop-lifting and other criminal activitivy players commit could be reduced not prevented.
    Adults are on the TITANS team…not boys…many are treated as inferior…of all colors…He isn’t a waste…He was an AMERICAN.

  9. Brian July 31, 2012 at 1:41 am

    It would be nice if we really kept up to what has been happening!!!! on July 6, 2012 Charles Drake commited suicide another former nfl player out of Michigan via Westchester high school in California. How many others have commited suicide that have slipped through the cracks?

  10. siligirl July 31, 2012 at 7:12 am

    This is definitely Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It starts with a concussion then leads to depression and finally suicide. The. High schools,colleges, and the NFL all need to start being investigated. It’s all about the money and what they can get out of our young men and unfortunately our young men are trying to get out of the hood and live like ballers. It’s a lose lose situation unless people start speaking out!

  11. Mike July 31, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Saddened to hear that he gave up on life. He had nothing to apologize for. I hope he has received the peace he desired, but could not get on this earth.

  12. Yvonne July 31, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about the lost of this young man. We in our community need to listen. More often than not he cried out for help, we just did’nt hear his cry.No blame on anyone. We as a people must deal with the signs and symptoms of depression. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

  13. Darrick July 31, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Condolences to the family of this young man, but we can’t blame football, boxing or any other risk related sport. Some of us are simply gladiators its how we’re made, I spent 19yrs in the fight game and yes my brain has been rattle up, down and all around…Physically I’ve always been able to deal with pain fairly well, emotional pain has been more my problem, but @ age 49, I’ve been able to maintain fairly well and these emotional challenges in which I speak has absolutly nothing to do with brain trauma I know I’ve endurwed. We’re all going through something and some are able to deal with it better than others, a simply fact of life. Yes I’ve felt as if I no longer wanted to be here, tired of dealing with the ups and downs of life but despite my emotional pain there are many who love and admire me and killing myself would only continue a cycle of pain that exist in so many Black families. Those of us who have and or are participating in physical sports understand the risk involved and personally I miss pushing my body to the limit. I’ve heard Ali say he wouldn’t change anything boxing has afforded him a great life, despite his condition, so the solution lie’s in patients, love and understanding and it’s never a quick fix.

  14. Edward July 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I am sorry to read this story, but there will be many more to come. Until black people begin to understand that we are still slaves, only it is called by another name.Yhe system we live under is a slave system. And until thar system of white imperialism is removed from our lives we will be slaves. You can call it whatever you want to call it, but I call it slavery, we did not participate in its development, we are its victims. We run around like gladiators jumping and halling on the field just like monkeys whrn you give them a banana. That is all you are to white folks.
    You make good money but you are still a nigger slave to the system.
    I heard an interview on Tom Joiner radio this morning. The person being interviewed was Ms.Carol Simpson, who was a weekend evening news anchor for ABC news.
    She told a story about what one of the bosses asked her one evenong. The were at a reception, and the boss asked her when where was her cap and apron, as she was supposed to be serving them. When will we ever learn, when will we begin to start understanding who our enemy really is.May his soul find peace, because with all the money in the world, when you are mistreated and disrespected and be made out to be a clown, you get tired, and you will never find happiness until we die.
    It’s the system that we live under, and believe in that is our problem. Wake up black people, we are a mitghty people let’s fing ourselves.Our back is strong but our minds have become weak. Let us return and revisits our history, it will require a lot of work, but I can tell you it’s woth it. We cannot keep going through life not knowing who we are. We listen to other telling us who we are, or who they want us to be. After they drog us into slavery, colonization, and now Neocolonization, what next kill of the entire race so they can continue to live off the wealth of MOTHER AFRICA?.Step away from the mentality of FREEBE, and take charge of your life.

  15. carol August 1, 2012 at 2:35 am

    So pleased that u r bringing attention to this matter. Long overdue.

  16. Johnny Henry August 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I am very saddened at this tragedy, my heart bleeds for this young man and his family. May his soul find peace and love in Heaven.

    God Bless

    Johnny Henry

  17. Deborah August 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Another tragedy…Another solution? I assist professional players with a successful transition from their sport. Do you want to be an entrepreneur? Work for someone? Go back and finish your degree (or obtain an advanced degree)? College professor and former NCAA Div. I basketball player working to give back… Holla. 888.668.8403. People do care and want to make a difference.


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