Former NFL player Larry Johnson could be suffering from symptoms brought on by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed after death. In a Washington Post feature published Tuesday (Dec. 12), Johnson details his struggle with depression, mood swings and suicidal thoughts, and reveals how his daughter has helped him combat some of his inner demons.
Memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, impulse control problems, depression, and anxiety, are some of the symptoms of CTE, and Johnson — who says that he can’t remember the last two seasons of his career –fears that he won’t know his own name by age 50.
For the last several years, the 38-year-old former pro athlete has been recording videos for his 7-year-old daughter to watch when she gets older.
“If I can’t remember who I was, I’ve got YouTube; I’ve got music videos that I’m making for myself, so when I watch these things I can remember,” he told the paper. “I’m trying to get these things in order so she knows who I am and what I came from.”
Johnson’s urge to chronicle his life became stronger following the suicide of Aaron Hernandez. In April, the former New England Patriots player hanged himself in his prison cell last days after being acquitted of double murder. Hernandez, was found to have an extremely severe case of CTE.
Johnson, a native of Maryland began playing football as a child. He was drafted to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003, and played for the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, who released him in 2011.
Over the last decade, Johnson has been arrested at least half a dozen-times, mostly for assaulting women. And he plans to be honest with his daughter about his past.
In the story, Johnson speaks to his bouts of rage, offering up an explanation but not necessarily an excuse, for a history of violent behavior and physical abuse. “Those two combinations, of being angry and not being able to shut that switch off, started to disrupt who I really was,” he says. “And it was just waiting to eat me up.”
At the height of his career, Johnson became the highest paid running back in the NFL securing a $45 million contract with the Chiefs that guaranteed him at least $19 million. His circle of friends included Jay Z, and he used to date Mya.
But as the arrest records grew, people began to distance themselves from Johnson. According to the article, Jay Z ended their friendship (via email) because Johnson continued to get arrested, and Mya once saved him from “jumping from a window.”
Today, Johnson, who works at a non-profit organization aimed at mentoring disadvantaged children through art, has enough leftover from his multi-million contract to send his daughter to college, and to support himself.
He left Miami for a quieter life in nearby Ft. Lauderdale and cut back on drinking and partying. He also quit therapy and refuses to take prescription pills because he feels equipped at managing his mental strife without medication.
“You kind of create your own prison,” he said of being a recluse. “I’ve kind of barricaded myself in my surroundings [with] certain things that I can handle. That’s kind of how I beat it.”
Johnson’s daughter however provides a “good distraction” from his personal battle. “She sees something in me that most people will never see.”