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What Was Behind Kenny McKinley’s Apparent Suicide?

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As reports referenced below indicate, something dark may have been lurking behind what players and coaches have described as the lively and happy demeanor of Kenny McKinley, the former wide receiver and kick returner for the Denver Broncos who was believed to have shot himself to death at his Centennial, Colorado, home this past Monday.

In this story, former colleagues reflected on McKinley’s life, reflections that show just how surprising the suicide must be to many people. According to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard:

He was always a guy that used to love to joke with me, and I would joke back and forth with him. But he had a big smile on his face.

As it turns out, investigator reports indicate that McKinley, who was on injured reserve in his second year with the Broncos, had dropped hints that he may have been suffering from depression about his knee injury:

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s report quoted one investigator as saying McKinley had been depressed over a knee surgery he had a month ago.

“He had made statements while playing dominoes shortly after the surgery that he should just kill himself,” the officer reported. “No one believed he was serious.”

Thus, commentators on WCCP’s “The Score” radio show–a station based out of Clemson, South Carolina–were, at least in part, on target when they seemed to suggest today that McKinley may have been overly stressed by the various pressures faced by athletes who depend on their health for their livelihood. Of course, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who had a four-year, $1.9 million contract with a professional football team in one of the most lucrative leagues in the world. But the radio commentators pointed out that professional athletes, some of whom have no other options outside of sports, depend mightily on their bodies to support their families and pay the bills, however colossal those expenses may seem to regular folk.

Woodyard said as much in the above-linked article when he said, “Well, you know, football’s a stressful job. … It’s the same thing with people in everyday life, you’ve got to talk to somebody in your life, so just to help you work out those problems.”

In short, for McKinley, who holds the all-time receiving record at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina and who had seven kickoff returns for 158 yards last season with the Denver Broncos, football was his life. And he may have felt that this type of life may be, or may have already been, taken away from him.

As if to make a posthumous point, McKinley left a final clue: when police officers arrived to find McKinley’s head lying under a pillow with a gun on top, they also noticed a telling detail: the NFL Network was on his television set in the background.

<i>Photo credit: Jack Dempsey/AP</i>

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About Jeremy Styron