Copyright 2016 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
The brother of Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday that Salaam had "all the symptoms" associated with chronic football head trauma before he committed suicide last week, including memory loss and depression.
Jabali Alaji, Salaam's brother, also said he spoke to his brother about an hour before his death but that Salaam didn't indicate what he was about to do.
"It was a very positive conversation," said Alaji, who lives in the Atlanta area. "We made plans for the future."
Salaam, the legendary former University of Colorado running back, was found dead at a local park on the night of Dec. 5. His mother, Khalada, told USA TODAY Sports the next day that Boulder police said they suspected it was a suicide and that a note was found. Boulder police said the cause of death was under investigation.
"We don't know all the details yet on that," said Alaji, who planned to meet with police.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the disease associated with concussions and can be diagnosed only after death under current science. Alaji indicated that Salaam's brain was not donated for evaluation of CTE because of their Muslim faith and burial rituals, which call for burial within days after death and forbid desecration of the body.
If Salaam's brain were examined, Alaji said, "I would guarantee they'd find it."
Salaam, 42, who won the Heisman in 1994, was buried Friday, surrounded by family, friends and former teammates who remembered Salaam for his generous spirit, humility and a beaming smile that boosted moods and broke tension.
During the weekend, those former teammates and family helped clear out Salaam's home and took some more time to remember all the good he did for the University of Colorado and local youth. They said they hoped to carry on his legacy of helping children and also possibly suicide prevention.
"Rashaan did a lot for a lot of people," former Buffaloes teammate T.J. Cunningham told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday.
At the same time, they said Salaam had become adept at hiding his pain. Alaji said Salaam played with a broken elbow but kept it secret during his NFL rookie season with the Chicago Bears in 1995. He said Salaam had about 14 surgeries.
"He was banged up," Alaji said. "He was a running back. Who gets hit more on the field than a running back?"
Salaam played at Colorado from 1992 to 1994 before turning pro after his junior year, when he became the fourth player in major-college history to rush for 2,000 yards in one season. He was a big, slashing runner for CU, which finished ranked No. 3 in the nation that year with an 11-1 record.
"He wasn't a running back who was going to slide" to avoid contact with opponents, former CU teammate Shannon Clavelle told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. "This isn't baseball."
Football culture also demands playing with pain and not showing weakness. And that partly might have been why Salaam hid his recent suffering. For young men, it's also part of the general culture.
As an example, Alaji said Sunday that he still hadn't cried about his brother's death.
"My job is make sure I don't break down in front of my mom, so I haven't cried once," he said.
Alaji said he read the CTE symptoms, which include anxiety, depression, apathy and memory loss.
"He had all those symptoms," he said. He also said they found no evidence of substance abuse in his home.
"When I opened the house, I expected to go into a house of somebody who was on drugs or find alcohol in the trash can," Alaji said. "But when I walked into the house and saw how clean the house was, it shocked me. I went through his trash can. I went through hiding spaces expecting to find pill bottles or bottles of liquor. None of that was there. He didn't even take Motrin."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter