NFL’s #1 Draft Pick Claims Sleep Apnea Slowed Him Down

Sleep apnea weaved its way into the national consciousness back in 2004 when legendary NFL lineman Reggie White died in his sleep at the age of 43. The NFL-apnea connection appeared yet again in a late October 2011 article in Sports Illustrated that documented the rise and dramatic fall of the Oakland Raiders’ #1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Many NFL fans remember JaMarcus Russell, a 6-foot, 7-inch quarterback with a rocket arm who flamed out of the league, a victim of a questionable work ethic that may have been made worse by sleep apnea.

Russell reports that the condition contributed to lethargic practices and less-than-alert film sessions. “In the NFL, my first year, I had to be there at 6:30 before practice and be on the treadmill for an hour,” said Russell in the article by L. Jon Wertheim. “Then meetings come, I sit down, eat my fruit. We watch film, and maybe I got tired. Coach Flip [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] pulled me aside and said, ‘What are you doing for night life?’ I said, ‘Coach, I’m just chilling.’ He said, ‘I need to get you checked out.’ I did the sleep test, and they said I had apnea.”

At another point in the article, Russell’s former “life coach,” ex NBA player John Lucas, said: “JaMarcus is a good kid, I’m telling you, who just needs to find his motivation. But we still talk. Have him tell you about his sleep apnea. A lot [of his issues] come from that. And no one knows it.” The article does not mention CPAP, oral appliances, compliance, or whether Russell underwent any therapy for the condition.

Almost 7 years after her husband’s death, Reggie White’s widow went on television this week to spread the word about sleep apnea. Last week, former San Diego Chargers’ offensive lineman Aaron Taylor, along with Rolf Benirschke, a kicker for the Chargers, attended yet another media event to talk about their own battles with sleep apnea.

link to the Benirschke article.

link to the Sports Illustrated article

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