News reports that Titans Receiver O.J. Murdock is dead, apparently of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Although Murdock was a highly ranked draft pick, he spent his only professional season in the NFL sidelined by injury. He never played in a game with the Titans.
In a discussion today with a friend over Mark Sherman’s post today about fame and the obsessive attention required to convert talent to fame, my friend, who is only internet-famous, remarked that someone who wants fame clearly hasn’t thought it through. My response was colored by an article I had just been reading in The New Yorker about Claressa Shields, who is on the US Olympics women’s boxing team. Shields and other women boxers often have no where else to go, and fight their way out of a life of desperation. It’s a story common to boxers, to athletes, and to African-American men in particular. Stardom in the form of professional athletics or entertainment come at high prices. Athletes believe they will pay with their bodies and will. They may not be equipped to pay the psychological price of such fierce competition.
There are helmets to help prevent against concussion, but these don’t do enough, either. The mental health risks football players take on are as intrinsic to their identities, and are as invisible and elusive in detection and treatment. No one close to Murdock may have known how he suffered; he may not have known, himself. But the risks of play are so well known, it forces the question: What is our responsibility to the athletes who are stretched beyond their personal limits by the stressors of their professions?