He was supposed to be a football star. Instead he’s accused of murder.

Photo: Anthony Moretti

Photo: Anthony Moretti

ESPN Magazine has a powerful story about a young man who almost everyone on the outside looking in thought had a bright future. How wrong they were.

AMERICA’S MENTALLY ILL are often overlooked or misunderstood. Interviews with Thomas Johnson’s family members, court and police records, and doctors’ diagnoses show that those closest to the college star were right beside him when he exhibited strange behaviors and acknowledged hearing voices, yet they all had difficulty interpreting the signs. Some were too ill-informed to understand what he needed, while others saw him through the lens of their own social conscience. Law enforcement officials mainly saw him as a typical drug abuser and figured there was nothing about him that a little rehab couldn’t cure. His parents were too busy arguing with each other to agree on a diagnosis.

Three years after he heard his last stadium cheers, Thomas was unemployed, sleeping on friends’ couches and, in the rare moments when he opened up, revealing a disturbing side that had already led to two arrests and several months in jail.

“You do know you’re talking to yourself,” his mother’s sister said to him one day as she watched him carry on a one-way conversation. “I’m sorry,” he replied, shaking his head with embarrassment.

Those close to Thomas weren’t willing to confront the obvious: He was no longer only their problem.

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