01/18/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak
He was a two time national champion in college. He was a first round NFL draft pick. And he died at the age of 40 in prison. So what led to the downward spiral and ultimate demise of Lawrence Phillips?
For Phillips, his problems started long before the NFL. He grew up in foster homes in California before becoming a football star in high school. His play in high school led him to getting a scholarship to Nebraska. Phillips helped lead Nebraska to back to back National Championships before being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 1996 draft. But off the field issues that plagued Phillips at Nebraska led to him washing out of professional football. Phillips played 2 seasons in St. Louis, before moving onto Miami for 2 games in 1997. He played in San Francisco in 1999 before falling out of the NFL for good.
Phillips had plenty of off the field issues while at Nebraska. Assault, vandalism, and allegedly taking money from a sports agent all were associated with him. Phillips was also arrested for assaulting his then girlfriend in 1995. Trouble stayed with him into the NFL. In his less than 2 seasons in St. Louis, Phillips spent 23 days in jail. That led to him being released by the Rams. The Dolphins let him go after 2 games after he was charged with assaulting a woman. Questions about his work ethic and clashing with coaches led to his end in San Francisco.
After football things got worse for Phillips. He was serving a 31 year sentence in prison when he died. He had been sentenced for 2 separate domestic abuse incidents and felony assault with a deadly weapon in a separate incident where Phillips drove his car into three people. While in prison he was charged with choking a cell mate to death.
Although all of this paints an awful picture of Phillips, there's another part to this story. While in prison, Phillips seemed to become reformed. He wrote letters to former coaches. He mentioned the conditions in prison. He said he had issues with gang members. He had asked not to have a cellmate who had a gang history. The cell mate his allegedly killed was a former gang member. Phillips was found dead after a judge determined there was enough evidence to send Phillips to trial in the death of his cell mate.
But family members don't believe Phillips killed himself. They said his spirits were high in the days leading up to his death despite the circumstances. In letters he sent out, Phillips said he felt prison staff was targeting him. His family has also agreed to have his brain examined for CTE.
Obviously this story isn't finished being told yet. But the story of so much potential and such a sad ending is one that hopefully isn't repeated. If anything, hopefully the sad story of Lawrence Phillips can be used to help any young athletes with off field issues to straighten themselves out while they still have a chance and before it's too late.
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