Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis had suicidal thoughts after end of NFL career

Jamal Lewis leaned against a chain-link fence lining the fields he used to rumble across every Ravens training camp and looked on. Ahead of him was Joe Flacco, taking questions from children at Tuesday’s Play Like A Raven Football Clinic at McDaniel. Just behind him — only hours, really — was the publication of a Bleacher Report profile detailing his struggles since the former star running back’s last NFL carry almost a decade ago.

Wearing his No. 31 Ravens jersey and a floppy-brimmed hat, Lewis, 38, told a reporter he hadn’t read the story. He was asked whether he had indeed had suicidal thoughts. The 38-year-old told Bleacher Report that the death of three former Ravens linemen — Orlando Bobo (heart and liver failure), Orlando Brown (diabetic ketoacidosis) and Atholton football coach Damion Cook (heart attack) — had made him consider whether suicide wasn’t a better way out. The dark thoughts never metastasized into a plan, but they were there.


“That’s pretty much every other football player who’s retired, too,” said Lewis, choosing not to walk back his comments. “They probably don’t say anything, but it’s right there. It’s what they’re going through. At the same time, I’m good. I feel good. I’m here with the Ravens showing kids the right way to play the sport and make the game safer.”

Lewis’ nine seasons, 2,542 carries and 10,607 rushing yards in the NFL have changed him. He told The Baltimore Sun in 2015 that he still battles the effects of multiple concussions during his nine-year career, including slight depression and memory loss.


He last played in November 2009, when he said he asked a trainer whether he could undergo a concussion test the morning of a Cleveland Browns game and was told he'd need to wait until Monday, but still complains of headaches and difficulty breathing. He has a deviated septum, no sense of smell and a feeling that football has already changed his brain.

“I ran as a brutal running back,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I ran hard. That’s how I played the game. Would I change anything? No, I would not.”

Lewis made headlines in 2015 when his Super Bowl XLVII ring, given to him by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, was sold at auction. Lewis needed some fast cash after filing for bankruptcy. Now more mundane tasks trouble him. He told Bleacher Report he will sometimes start to drive to work or his children’s school and forget where he’s going. Normally, he said, the answer comes to him, but tasks like errands can be lost for good unless noted in his iPhone calendar.

“You just got to keep moving, know who you are and where you are and take one day at a time and keep on going,” he said Tuesday.

Lewis’ new business ventures and family life sustain him now. The NFL, he told the website, is unwilling to help. Lewis said he has requested disability payments from the league three times, only to be denied each time. He attributes the refusal partly to his involvement in a lawsuit against the NFL over brain injuries and partly to what he called the league’s narrow definition of a disability. (The NFL did not respond to a request for comment.)

Read more about Lewis here.