When the NFL first reached out to Titus Young, the wide receiver had not yet punched a teammate, intentionally lined up wrong during a game or been arrested three times in less than a week.
That all came later.
The NFL says it tried to assist Young 18 months ago, right around the time he was wrapping up a solid rookie season with Detroit. Back then, he had shown few signs of being the character risk teams feared he might be coming out of Boise State, where he sat out most of the 2008 season for disciplinary reasons.
Troy Vincent, a former player who is the NFL’s senior vice president for player engagement, said Young rejected several offers of help after someone close to him contacted the league – long before he was arrested last month. Police say Young was the intruder who prompted a California homeowner to call 911 and start loading a rifle.
That came months after Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death and then killed himself in the team’s parking lot.
The NFL believes such situations show why it must try and help players with mental health issues, though it’s not always possible to do so without the player’s cooperation.
“We realize that it may seem nearly impossible to stop these incidents from ever happening, but our mission is to inspire the kind of attitude and to provide the kind of assistance that will enable us to reduce these incidents and/or prevent them from occurring,” Vincent wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “We have a system in place. But just as in Jovan Belcher’s and Titus Young’s cases, it also takes shared responsibility – a willingness of the individual and our communities to engage in discussions around mental health.”
The league announced a major mental health initiative less than a year ago. Current and former players are eligible to get help through a hotline, and anyone associated with them can ask.
Several people showed concern for Young.
His high school coach in Los Angeles, E.C. Robinson, remembers seeing his former player last Christmas, when the coach’s wife had to remind Young to turn around the ball cap he had on backward, and pull up his sagging pants. He was also going on about how he was better than All-Pro teammate Calvin Johnson in Detroit.
Young’s behavior was much more alarming a couple of months later. Robinson said his daughter had to grab Young to keep him from wandering into traffic in front of their house, and the coach said Young didn’t even know the Rams had released him 11 days after the Lions did the same thing because of his erratic behavior.
“He shouldn’t be out on the streets,” Robinson said. “The day he left my house, I was scared. I mean, you’ve got a loose cannon out there that could go off anytime.”
Robinson said Young’s parents were concerned enough to take the car keys from their son after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence May 5, then taken in again 15 hours later after authorities say he was seen scaling a fence to try to retrieve his car from the tow yard in Moreno Valley, east of Los Angeles. He was charged with trespassing in that matter.
The family went to a facility at UCLA after those arrests, but there wasn’t room for Young to stay overnight, Robinson said. The next day, Young asked for his keys to get his cellphone from his car, and moments later he was gone. That night – May 10 – Young was arrested after authorities say they found him in bushes outside the home of a man whose call to authorities was the third in about six hours from the same neighborhood in San Clemente, about 60 miles from Young’s parents’ house.
He remains jailed on charges of attempted burglary, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. Young’s ex-girlfriend also has filed a restraining order against him. The couple has a child together.
A future in the NFL seems uncertain at best for Young, a second-round pick out of Boise State who has 990 yards and 10 touchdowns over two seasons.
“It’s just one of those things that we pray that he can get his off-the-field situation straight so then he can move forward with his life,” the Lions’ Johnson said. “I mean, you can never foresee things like this. We just wish him the best.”
Young’s father, Richard Young, said his son started changing after sustaining a concussion early in his rookie year with the Lions in 2011. Young never appeared on the league’s injury report with a concussion, although he did battle various ailments in two seasons. Vincent said he wasn’t aware of Young having a concussion.
“They never treated my son and he just kept on playing, and I think it just got worse,” said Richard Young, who told a Detroit newspaper that his son has a brain disorder but didn’t know the name of it. “Everything just started tumbling down.”
Titus Young was suspended for most of his sophomore season at Boise State for reasons never disclosed by coach Chris Petersen, who declined comment after the recent string of arrests. Young shaped up enough to become the first Boise receiver with two 1,000-yard seasons.
Young avoided trouble his first year in Detroit, but things suddenly changed when he punched teammate Louis Delmas while the safety wasn’t looking during offseason workouts after his rookie season. His final act in Detroit was intentionally lining up in the wrong place during a game against Green Bay late last season. The Lions put Young on season-ending injured reserve in early December.