JaMarcus Russell really does feel like one word. That’s the way that it goes for athletes like him, Tony Mandrich, Ryan Leaf, Anthony Bennett, and Trent Richardson. The reason for that, only one word comes to mind at the thought of them: Bust.
There is possibly no draft bust more legendary than Russell because of the way that it happened. It’s hard to think of a player who was more unprofessional than him. Russell was constantly out of shape and not studying. A story some of his ex-teammates have told is once the coaching staff gave Russell blank DVDs to study. The next day when coaches asked him about what he’d seen, he faked like he’d watched them.
He signed a six-year, $61 million contract, $32 million guaranteed as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and was released in May 2010. Russell never even made another NFL roster.
Russell is seen as everything that was wrong about young professional athletes in the 2000s, and an example of why the rookie wage scale was necessary after his holdout lasted until Week 2 of the 2007 season. Yesterday, in The Players’ Tribune, Russell told his side of the story.
He admits that he was not the professional that he should have been. There’s one anecdote in which he describes an argument that he had with his quarterbacks coach. The coach was not happy with Russell’s lack of attention during a meeting and started cursing him out. Russell did not appreciate that and asked him to stop. The next play they reviewed, the coach complimented Russell who then slammed his desk, pointed at him and said, “Now, bitch, that’s how you talk to me from now on.”
We laugh at the stories of Stephen A. Smith eviscerating Russell on First Take, and in the process, to many, Russell loses his humanity. In the minds of the people JaMarcus Russell just becomes synonymous with bust.
In his article, Russell talks about what happened during the offseason going into the 2007 draft. He’s extremely close with his extended family, especially with a couple of his uncles. His Uncle Marcus was the person who got him started playing football, and is the man he is named after. The day following his Pro Day, Russell was alerted by his mother that something was wrong with Marcus. Russell goes to his room and sees that he is unresponsive. Then while everyone is crying and thinks he’s dead, Marcus wakes up, but his right mind did not. He started screaming and yelling like he was possessed. “I rebuke you Satan!” He just kept yelling like that until he was sedated.
Marcus was in such bad shape, he wasn’t even with the family at the draft a few months later, and for a long time was not able to mentally recover. In the article Russell mentions that he didn’t even enjoy the draft because of what happened. A clip of him being selected does show quite possibly the most muted reaction ever to a person being a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Then two years later, two of his uncles, Mike and Ray, died months apart. Russell was so close with Ray that after two decades as a radio DJ, once his nephew declared for the NFL Draft Ray quit to be his business manager and helped him get a Nike deal.
It was the 2009 season that ended Russell’s career. This was the year after Al Davis tore Lane Kiffin limb from limb with an overhead projector attacking his unprofessionalism. Tom Cable was hired who benched Russell in 2009, and threw some thinly veiled criticism at him to the press. Of course Russell deserved criticism, as he wasn’t doing his job. This is also the part of his life that got out of control with the drinking of syrup and other adult beverages.
The article paints the full picture, through Russell’s eyes, of the full man. He’s quite flawed, but he also made $40 million dollars. That may not make him an NFL success, but he certainly was one back home and at the bank. And the reader also gets to see why he doesn’t answer when people say “JaMarcus Russell” when they see him. He said it sounds like one word and it does. But he is a lot more than the complete opposite of the bust NFL players want at the end of their career in Canton. He’s a person who dealt with a lot the best he could. It just wasn’t good enough for the NFL.