By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Over the course of his nine-year NFL career, the football was handed to Larry Johnson nearly 1,500 times. In the 2006 season alone, he registered 416 carries, setting an NFL record that still stands. In his four years at Penn State, he carried the ball 460 times and returned 59 kickoffs. In college and the pros combined, he had more than 200 receptions.
All told, Larry Johnson had the football in his hands more than 2,000 as a high-level collegiate player and a professional running back. And over the course of that career, he absorbed thousands of hits.
As a result, the man who is just 38 years old and six years removed from professional football is speaking out about the harrowing details of his life with what he believes to be chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE cannot be detected in living humans — not yet, at least — so his exact condition cannot be confirmed. Yet in an open and honest profile on Johnson in The Washington Post, Johnson shared some details about his life that are nothing short of terrifying.
The story, written by Kent Babb, includes the following:
–Johnson often fights suicidal urges. He wonders: “What would it be like for this to be the day for people to find out you’re not here?”
–Johnson doesn’t remember two full years of his NFL career. Johnson said that “even some of his most memorable plays have grown hazy” and as a result, he’s begun making highlight reels of some of his best plays “in part as reminders to himself that he was involved in them.”
–“Johnson fears that, by the time he’s 50, he won’t remember his own name.”
–Johnson, who’s committed violence again women several times, said the details of Aaron Hernandez resonated with him. “I could be Aaron Hernandez,” Johnson told Babb.
–“He has no idea how the Porsche’s passenger-side mirror got smashed, nor can he remember the full sequence that led to the cluster of dents in the vehicle’s rear hatch.”
–Johnson said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in years past. 2014 Danish study determinedA that people who endure traumatic brain injuries are 28 percent more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
–A friend described Johnson’s mood swings as being like those of The Incredible Hulk. “He could be super happy one moment,” she said, “and an hour later, he’s just ready to blow up. You’re like: What just went wrong?” Johnson recalled a moment where he presumably fought a man but had no recollection of doing it.
“He noticed himself staring at [a friend], feeling a growing urge to punch him,” Babb wrote. “Almost in a heartbeat, Johnson went from sociable and joyful to deeply angry and potentially violent — frightening, at least this time, only himself.”
–Johnson planned, essentially, a self-destructive mission to “destroy himself.” He made a goodbye video for his daughter, and expected to either end up in prison or dead.
“A bittersweet thing: I’m going to be free of everything that’s holding me down,” Johnson says now, and he wonders whether Hernandez experienced similarly intense feelings in his final days. “The same way Aaron thought: I’m going to be gone from this world, but I’m still going to be able to take care of my child, because that’s all I care about.”
The full story is, of course, important to read. It doesn’t gloss over the acts of domestic violence or his history with guns, and it in no way tries to paint Johnson as any sort of saintly character. It does, however, provide a very real look of the day-to-day struggles of a man who sustained high-impact hits on his brain from the age of 9 through the age of 32.
It’s a story that often goes untold, at least until the former player’s life comes to an end — either self-inflicted or otherwise. And it’s a reminder that for as much as football is still king in America, the lasting effects on those who play aren’t going away on their own.