During his playing career at Tennessee, Jamal Lewis was a force. He still ranks fifth all-time in program history in career rushing yards with 2,677 yards, and his 1,364 yards in 1997 are still the third-most in a single season in UT history. He turned a productive college career into an even more impressive pro career.
In nine NFL seasons, Lewis amassed 10,607 yards and 58 touchdowns on 2,542 carries. His 2003 season is still one of the most impressive in NFL history, as he became just the fifth player in league history at the time to run for 2,000 yards in a season. His 295-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns was the most in a single game in NFL history at the time and has since only been eclipsed once (Adrian Peterson in 2007).
But all that success came at a cost.
In a very personal and revealing interview with Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report, Lewis shared harrowing details about his life after football. Lewis fears that he has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, commonly referred to as CTE, because of all the concussions he endured while playing football.
The side effects of CTE have caused several former NFL players to have severe depression and eventually commit suicide. And Lewis said those thoughts crossed his mind a time or two after he was “ejected” out of the league.
“You think about death,” Lewis said in the interview. “I’ve thought about suicide. I’ve thought about ending it all.”
Lewis stated that while he was playing in the NFL, he had an outlet for those “dark thoughts.” But once his playing career ended prematurely because of injuries — the concussions he suffered — he lost the “cheerleaders” in his life who kept him going.
As Dunne details, it wasn’t just the ending of his NFL career that sent him spiraling, however. Lewis had his world fall apart after his playing career ended.
He felt his self-worth disappear because, he says, the “cheerleaders” in his life—the 70,000 screaming fans each Sunday—disappeared. His trucking company collapsed. He filed for bankruptcy. His assets were seized. He felt a distance between himself and his family. He felt lost in the emptiness and couldn’t tell a soul about these demons. Didn’t know how to, really. Where he’s from, Atlanta’s hardscrabble Adamsville neighborhood, expressing feelings was a sign of weakness.
Dunne goes on to to detail that Lewis watched three of his former teammates, Orlando Bobo, Orlando Brown, and Damion Cook, all die due to health complications. And Lewis thought suicide might be a better way to go.
“You just have those thoughts about should you end it?” Lewis told Dunne. “I can only imagine with sleep apnea and heart attacks and heart disease. Who wants to go out like that? Especially when you have people upset with you—your wife upset with you, pissed off, you have to file bankruptcy, made bad decisions…”
Lewis estimates that he had a minimum of 10 concussions and went unconscious “two or three times” in his 10-year NFL career. But despite the low points his life reached, he’s not letting everything keep him down.
“It’s not over,” Lewis says. “I have to keep moving.
The rest of the interview details more about the head trauma, depression, and other health issues Lewis has dealt with over the last few years. He also talks about his rough childhood, the deaths and health issues of friends and former teammates, and his business misfortunes.
But Lewis also goes into detail about how he found hope, his new business ventures, and the rededication he’s made to his children.
Though he’s been through some absolutely dreadful moments and still faces the uncertainty of the future, the former Tennessee and NFL star isn’t letting anything ruin his life.
“I’m taking this head on,” Lewis assures Dunne at the end of the interview.
If you want to read the full interview with Jamal Lewis, simply follow this link to the story.