Former No. 1 NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell went deep on the ups and downs of his life and career, telling never-before-heard stories from a career that was as well-documented off the field as on it, on the latest episode of “The Pivot Podcast.”
The episode sees the show’s co-hosts and former NFL stars Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor go back-and-forth with Russell on his tumultuous three-year NFL career with the Raiders from 200 to 2009. While the crew is able to eventually get Russell to discuss his professional regrets, he maintains that he was more a victim of circumstances than anything else in the NFL.
Organizational Dysfunction Damaged Fragile Rookie
“At LSU, my coach wanted to coach me,” said Russell, referring to his standout college career with the LSU Tigers. “He wanted me to do well. Others around me as well. In Oakland, I didn’t feel that. [Quarterbacks coach] John DeFilippo and [offensive coordinator] Greg Knapp wanted me to succeed, but once we had a coaching change, everything switched.
“I didn’t feel like they were there for me. The guy they have there now, Derek Carr, they’re for him. … They just went and got him a receiver that will catch anything thrown to him. If you put Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on one of those teams I was on, what do you think would happen?”
The Relationship & The Money Is Messed Up
Russell went on to share a story about a contract dispute that he eventually had with the Raiders in regard to his rookie deal. For Russell, this was just one of many examples of the team not supporting him how he felt he needed to be.
“The Oakland Raiders did a jive contract,” said Russell. “My agent said I had a contract where I was taking less money. … So phone calls started being made, and we were about to go to court. I went up to San Francisco and everything. The moment we get to court, I get a call saying, ‘You don’t need to go to court, what you want?’ I want what you owe me, then get out of the way.”
Sippin’ On Some Sizzurp: Young, Wild and Free
Much of the criticism Russell received involved his habits off the field, including who was in his close circle and about a potential addiction to sizzurp. Even when the co-hosts try to pin down what led to these perceptions, Russell reverts to the organizational dysfunction as the root of the issue.
“I wasn’t doing crazy sh-t,” said Russell. “I was trying to chill, relax and win football games. Unfortunately, I wasn’t winning. I was dealt a bullsh-t hand. I was at practice and these guys couldn’t catch a reverse, much less a 90-yard bomb.”
As a result of his downfall following a rookie contract with $35 million guaranteed, Russell became a poster boy of sorts for athletes who squandered large financial windfalls. While admitting that he failed to grasp the business side of the game back then, Russell reverted back to the organization as the source.
“I didn’t figure out the business side of the game until I was already out of the league,” said Russell. “It just never hit me. … And I felt like my coach was jiving me from the get-go. There were some things done that I didn’t agree with and didn’t like. But I was a youngster, I didn’t know what was going on in that building. It was lonely.”
Eventually, the co-hosts were able to push Russell to open up and look inward to admit his own culpability in where his career ended up.
First Step Towards Redemption Is Accepting Blame
“Everything that went wrong, I take fault in it,” said Russell. “I’m not asking for a pity party from nobody, under any circumstances. What happened, happened. Let’s move on. Football doesn’t last forever. It gave me a great start on life. I’m not mad at nobody. I have no reason to be. [Late Raiders owner] Al Davis blessed me.
“I was a young kid. I was learning to be a professional athlete and a grown man. After that ended, I learned quicker because I had more time. … I lost two uncles right before my rookie season started. I was f-cked up. Sh-t wasn’t going right, and it took a toll on me. Looking back now, I was reaching out for help.”
Staying on this line of introspection, the crew got Russell to share his feelings on being labeled perhaps the biggest “bust” in NFL draft history. As Russell explains, those regrets are only related to his personal goals, not perceptions from the outside.
Not Dan Marino, But Not A Bust In Life
“My sh-t didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, or not how they expected it to,” said Russell. “But if you’re going to call me a ‘bust,’ put ‘biggest’ on that motherf-cker then. That does not bother me. That is not in my world. It doesn’t apply to anything I have going on.
“I regret that I wasn’t about to become the football player that I once wanted to be as a child. Some sh-t like Dan Marino. I regret that I couldn’t be that guy. Forget who everyone else wanted me to be, it was about who I wanted to be for myself.”
The crew of former NFL stars goes to far as to have Russell directly address the camera for all those that may be worried or curious how Russell is doing now, after years of stories and rumors that have dripped out from his time in the league and after he played his last snap.
“I’m doing well and I’m living life,” said Russell. “Keep me in your prayers and I’ll keep you in mine. I don’t want for nothing. I haven’t for a long time and it’s going to stay that way. I might have played three years, but those three years are going to cover a lifetime and more.”
Finally, in wrapping up another insightful and sometimes emotional conversation on “The Pivot Podcast,” Russell gives a simple explanation of his biggest pivot, which remains a work in progress to this day.
“My pivot was after football, to becoming a human being again,” said Russell. “You have to recalibrate that. I’m still working on becoming a better person day by day.”