More than a year has passed since the Raiders released quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NFL draft. In the past 20 months, numerous rumors have surfaced about Russell being broke, fired by his life coach and headed down a bad path.
Well, for the first time, Russell consented to an interview to address those things, and more. The feature comes out in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated. Here are some excerpts of the interview, as provided by Sports Illustrated:
Russell said part of his struggles arose from dealing with the death of 11 family members or friends, including uncle and father figure Ray Ray:
“I went through so much no one knew about. Go to a funeral on Saturday, fly into the game on Sunday. Then I hear, ‘He doesn’t lead by example.’ Really?”
Russell says he was betrayed by then-coach Tom Cable:
“I stuck my neck out for him. Didn’t complain when he benched me as the starter. Didn’t complain when he called the same plays five damn times. Didn’t [badmouth] him to other coaches. When the [media] asks me, I say, ‘He’s a good coach, a good guy.’ Then I hear he says I was the worst thing ever happened to the Raiders, if it weren’t for him we’d be in the playoffs?… It just got to where the game wasn’t fun for me.”
Russell said he received more than his share of blame for the Raiders struggles:
“The lack of support from his teammates: “Things weren’t going right, and it felt sometimes like everything fell back on me. I take some responsibility, but I was one guy…. I may have missed a throw, but I didn’t give up 42 points, I didn’t miss a block.”
Also, Russell said he has used some of the $39 million or so he was paid by the Raiders — $32 million was guaranteed — on charitable deeds in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
Those things include: paying for turkeys at Thanksgiving food drives, purchasin supplies and library books for local schools and uniforms for local sports teams, underwriting the renovation for his church, building ramps for wheelchair-bound residents and rewarding kids with straight A’s with bikes, MP3 players and GoPhones.
“If I do go broke, it’s going to be from providing for my neighborhood and my family.” So why isn’t his charitable work more publicized? “My business is my business. That’s how I prefer it. I gotta look up to God. I don’t gotta look out to no damn news cameras!”
On reports that he slept during team meetings with the Raiders, Russell had this to say:
“In the NFL, my first year, I had to be there at 6:30 before practice and be on the treadmill for an hour. Then meetings come, I sit down, eat my fruit. We watch film, and maybe I got tired. Coach Flip [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] pulled me aside and said, ‘What are you doing for night life?’ I said, ‘Coach, I’m just chilling.’ He said, ‘I need to get you checked out.’ I did the sleep test, and they said I had apnea.”
Life coach John Lucas told Sports Illustrated that he did’t fire Russell.
“I don’t know where that [report] came from. JaMarcus is a good kid, I’m telling you, who just needs to find his motivation. But we still talk. Have him tell you about his sleep apnea. A lot [of his issues] come from that. And no one knows it.”
Russell denied being broke, too.
“Football isn’t paying me now. You make $1 million a game and you can do whatever. It’s not like that anymore; I need to put myself in a place where those zeroes in the bank last for a long time. But I’m not broke. Far from it.”
As for what the future holds, Russell said:
“I’ll keep moving, man. But what if I don’t make it back to the NFL? I’ll be O.K. Being a competitor, I feel like I have unfinished business. Like, ‘It can’t end like this.’ But want to know the truth? I know that the game don’t owe me a damn thing.”
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