I came across an article the other day that really struck a chord.
Vincent Jackson, former wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was found dead in a Brandon hotel room in February of 2021. Only recently was an autopsy report released. It didn’t hold all that many surprises.
I didn’t know Vincent Jackson, but we lived in the same town: Tampa Bay. The Brandon hotel in which he was found only a short drive from my house.
I didn’t know Vincent Jackson, but I knew people that knew him and knew of him.
I never met Vincent Jackson personally but, for years I worked in a bar/restaurant that he later purchased and rebranded.
I didn’t know Vincent Jackson, but I know he was revered in the community, a local sports personality and hero if you will, one who gave back.
I didn’t know Vincent Jackson, but I know that he and I shared a lot more in common than just our city of residence and one time building of employment. Both Jackson and I liked to drink to forget our problems. The difference is I made it out alive.
Jackson’s death was a tragic blow for our town. He was only 38 years old and just getting started with his life after football, or so it would seem. Jackson had demons that few if any knew about. The recently released toxicology report claimed his blood alcohol was four times the legal limit, which means he literally drank himself to death. Do you know how much liquor you must consume to obtain a blood alcohol level that high? As I said, Jackson and I have a lot in common, which is why I haven’t had a drink in six months.
Jackson played 12 years in the NFL. He was, by all accounts, a star wide receiver. As anyone who’s played the game professionally for that long, plus multiple years in college, plus physical high school football, CTE was bound to become prevalent. It did so viciously and unforgivingly in the case of Jackson. CTE, as we all know, came to fame with the film Concussion based on the book by Jeanne Marie Laskas on the findings of Dr. Bennet Omalu.
It’s unclear where the NFL stands these days on caring for its veterans but let’s put it this way. It can’t be any worse than it was, with the league historically turning a blind eye when it came to issues of depression and mental health. We are only now beginning to have an open dialogue on these matters as they relate to the professional athlete, or any of us really, far too often with judgment and backlash. Just ask Naomi Osaka. As we witnessed with Jackson and so many others before him, alcohol and depression do not mix, especially when you throw in a healthy dose of CTE from repeated head trauma.
According to ESPN, the Jackson autopsy stated he suffered from “alcoholic cardiomyopathy, hepatic steatosis and fibrosis, esophageal varices, ascites, jaundice, remote pancreatitis, renal failure and hyponatremia dehydration, cardiovascular disease and intoxication by ethyl alcohol,” all of which can be found at the bottom of a bottle if one’s not careful. To date, the bottle, and its contents, are undefeated.
Conversations about alcohol and depression are not easy. They are a matter of perspective, which only complicates the issue further. A person who does not suffer from depression will have a difficult time understanding the perspective of someone who does. As a result, the person suffering from that depression might find it difficult to explain what he or she is going through and shy away from doing so or deflect. The same goes for alcohol. A person who never feels the need drink will find it difficult to understand when or why a person does. That does not mean the need does not exist. Far from it.
All we can do is put our best caring foot forward, and continue to try, if not for the sake of Vincent Jackson, then for the next life we save from tragedy. I commend all those who have dedicated their lives to the study of these illnesses and empathize with those who suffer through them. I feel their anguish and support them unconditionally. Always best to remember you are not alone.
It is until we can openly discuss these issues free of judgment and shame that we will take a healthy and vital step in the right direction. And the lives of those who have suffered and lost will not be in vain.
Especially Vincent Jackson’s.