Former State College and Penn State running back Larry Johnson says he cannot remember two full NFL seasons because he believes he has chronic traumatic encephalopathy — also known as CTE — a brain disease afflicting those who have had multiple head injuries.
CTE can be diagnosed only after death, but the former NFL star told the Washington Post that his mood swings, anxiety and self-destructive impulses are similar to the symptoms of CTE.
Because of his memory loss, Johnson said he is making a “time capsule” of his career for his 7-year-old daughter, Jaylen — just in case he can’t recall specifics of his life down the line.
“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,” Johnson said in the piece. “I’m trying to get these things in order so she knows who I am and what I came from.”
Johnson — who has been arrested six times in the past, several occasions involving physically assaulting women — wonders if he could end up like Aaron Hernandez. The former New England Patriots tight end, who was serving a life sentence for murder, committed suicide in jail in April.
“A bittersweet thing: I’m going to be free of everything that’s holding me down,” Johnson said. “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.”
Johnson said he has “demons” that push him to “jump” off a rooftop deck. The only reason why he doesn’t act on those demons, Johnson said, is because of his daughter.
Johnson — who now lives in Florida — grew up in State College, thrived with the Little Lions and became a Heisman Trophy finalist and Maxwell Award winner at Penn State in 2002. He rushed for a combined 3,539 yards in 2005 and 2006 for the Kansas City Chiefs, and his 416 carries in 2006 set an NFL record.
The former Nittany Lion said he wanted to speak publicly to spark conversation with other former players Johnson believes may also have CTE symptoms.
The entire Washington Post story on Johnson’s struggle can be read here.