Caught in the world that turns a blind-eye to addiction in favor of passing yards and touchdowns, Kelly faces danger much greater than an NFL pass rush
On Wednesday, the Broncos released backup quarterback Chad Kelly. The circumstances surrounding Kelly’s arrest and subsequent release from the team fed talk show fodder and watercooler talk across the country, particularly in the Mile High City.
Kelly’s story became an instant source of entertainment and bemused laughter. Frequently, recent conversations about Kelly end with the summary phrase, “What an idiot.”
Kelly’s story is anything but funny, and I doubt he is an idiot. To the contrary, Kelly appears to be an addict whose life is spiraling downward in a very public way.
If anything, we should be discussing his story in somber tones reserved for the most serious topics.
There may be another as-yet-unexplained reason for Kelly’s erratic behavior, but descriptions of that night have all the telltale indicators of a young man under the influence of significant substance abuse.
If he is an addict, Kelly needs help, and he needs it now.
Kelly’s demise didn’t happen in a vacuum, and it didn’t happen overnight. In contrast, a system focused by passing yards and touchdowns turned a blind-eye to his years-long descent.
The public problems for Kelly began in college when he enrolled at Clemson to compete with future superstar and Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson.
In his second year, he argued with coaches on multiple occasions and got into a parking lot car crash. While not directly cited, I can’t imagine any of these incidents didn’t involve alcohol or other substances fueling his destructive behavior.
But just as most athletic programs are wont to do, Clemson saw Kelly as the problem — and not potential addiction. The team solved the “problem” by dismissing Kelly.
After rehabbing his football career by winning a junior college national championship, Kelly transferred to Ole Miss. For someone who with potential addiction issues, the setting probably couldn’t have been worse.
Ole Miss prides itself on the concept that “We may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a party.” Consequently, as long as he set school records at the home of Archie and Eli Manning, the school overlooked an incident at a nightclub when he was accused of threatening to “get my AK-47 and spray this place” or when he ran onto a high school field to engage in a fight during his brother’s game.
It doesn’t take an addict to recognize that both circumstances — a bar and a high school football game — presented significant opportunities for Kelly to engage in destructive substance abuse.
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But Kelly beat Alabama twice, led Ole Miss to the No. 3 ranking during 2014, and passed them to a Top Ten finish in 2015. College football programs tend to look the other way when a quarterback produces results like that.
Disgraced coach Hugh Freeze certainly wouldn’t have sacrificed game time if he noticed Kelly may have been drinking too much or partying too hard. As long as Kelly lit up scoreboards, Freeze wouldn’t have cared if he lit himself up later.
Despite his stellar stats at Ole Miss, Kelly fell down the NFL draft board in 2017 due to a combination of his off-field antics and injuries.
The Broncos used the very last pick of the draft, 253rd overall, to make Kelly what one sports blog references as “the most fascinating Mr. Irrelevant ever.”
Kelly made the team and moved up the depth chart once the Broncos released Paxton Lynch. During Denver’s recent four-game skid, calls for Kelly to replace Case Keenum as the starter became louder every week.
Then it all came crashing down.
Denver probably won’t be the last stop for Kelly. He may follow Johny Manziel, a similarly troubled talent, to the Canadian Football League.
Or he may find a QB-needy NFL franchise willing to take a risk. But if he is an addict and fails to get the help he really needs, prospects for his greater journey look bleak.
In my life I’ve known a congressman who drank himself out of office and into the grave, watched good friends lose jobs and children to bouts with various booze and pills, and was with my close friend when he found his mother lying dead in a pool of blood after her esophagus ruptured.
Alcohol and addiction kill in a limitless variety of ways, all ugly and all awful.
If Chad Kelly is an addict, he needs to put his health above gridiron glory, or he may take a sack he cannot get up from.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq