Two days before the NFL’s showpiece event, the Boston Globe’s Jackie McMullen has your feel-bad story of the week, the tale of former New England LB Ted Johnson, who in McMullen’s words is now “a struggling ex-athlete who has become unreliable and unreachable — making promises and commitments he does not keep — the subject of steamy tabloid gossip, shunned for an alleged domestic abuse incident involving his wife.”
Johnson, 34, suffers from such severe depression that some mornings he literally cannot pull himself out of bed. When the crippling malaise overtakes him, he lies in a darkened room, unwilling to communicate with his closest family members.
The 10-year NFL veteran believes his current state is a direct result of a career in which he absorbed “countless” head injuries, including back-to-back concussions suffered within days during the 2002 season, when he says the Patriots didn’t give him proper time to recover.
He has tried to make himself well. He has been in counseling, taken antidepressants (Prozac and Wellbutrin). When they made him feel sluggish, he began taking Adderall, an amphetamine. He developed an addiction to the stimulant and was admitted to McLean Hospital in the summer of 2005 to receive psychiatric care. The doctors took films of his brain, he said, but they were not conclusive.
Desperate for answers, Johnson scheduled an appointment to receive electric shock treatment before deciding at the last moment to forgo that option.
“Officially, I’ve probably only been listed as having three or four concussions in my career,” Johnson said. “But the real number is closer to 30, maybe even more. I’ve been dinged so many times I’ve lost count.”
Johnson toyed with going public with his story before. He shared his struggles with the Globe last summer, but later requested his comments be put on hold. The recent suicide of former NFL defensive back Andre Waters, who had multiple concussions and suffered from depression, finally prompted Johnson to come forward.
“I want people to realize that you don’t have to ‘black out’ to have a concussion,” he said. “Most times, the symptoms of a concussion don’t show up for hours, sometimes days. And this isn’t just happening in the NFL. High school kids get concussions, and aren’t properly monitored.”
In what can only be considered something less than a wild coincidence, NFLPA head Gene Upshaw is in the papers today defending the union from charges that retired players’ pensions are insufficient.