Rashaan Salaam, the former college football standout whose body was found in a Boulder, Colo., park earlier this month, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the Boulder County Coroner's office.
Salaam won the 1994 Heisman Trophy — awarded to the best player in college football — after rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a junior at the University of Colorado. He went on to play parts of four seasons in the NFL, winning the NFC Rookie of the Year award with the Chicago Bears in 2005. But his promising career was cut short, in part because of injuries.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Salaam had off-the-field issues as well:
"Salaam was 20 when he was drafted and later admitted he wasn't mature enough to handle everything that came his way. He was also open about his excessive marijuana use during his early days in the NFL.
" 'When I got hurt, I knew (marijuana) was a problem because it pretty much consumed all my time,' Salaam told ESPN in 1999. 'I wasn't going to practice or anything like that, so I pretty much spent a lot of my time sitting around and getting high, and that's when I knew I had to let it go. I wasn't outgoing. I was just to myself. All I wanted to do was go home and do what I wanted to do. I wasn't a social person. I was an outcast.' "
Salaam was 42-years-old when his body was found on Dec. 5.
The Boulder County Coroner's office says it offered to test Salaam's brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, but his family denied consent, citing religious reasons.
CTE can cause, depression, impulsive behavior, suicidal tendencies, and emotional instability, among other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, and has been linked to the repeated collisions sustained during long careers playing football.
Even though Salaam's brain wasn't tested for CTE, his brother, Jabali Alaji told USA TODAY earlier this month that Salaam appeared to have CTE symptoms:
"Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the disease associated with concussions and can only be diagnosed 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. I would guarantee it.' "
In a recent profile piece, The New York Times reported that Salaam had moved near Boulder recently, home of the University of Colorado, and his greatest achievements on the football field. But a onetime teammate told the paper that Salaam increasingly kept to himself before taking his own life:
" 'Rashaan was 20 years old when he won the Heisman Trophy,' [T.J.] Cunningham said. 'To achieve the epitome of success at 20, but then you can't get to that point again — what did that do to Rashaan?'
"That may be an insoluble question. For people who knew him, the prospect that he took his own life is hard to reconcile with someone best known for an infectious smile that brightened a room when he entered it."