Commit-to-Believe: Kevin “James” Richardson said “NO” to the Steelers…
COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE: Why upcoming author Kevin “James” Richardson said “NO” to the Steelers…
When the Steelers offered you a contract in 1977, why did you say NO?
It wasn’t something I wanted to do. Playing in the NFL had been a childhood dream. Turning down the contract offer was the direct result of unforeseen circumstances I encountered that led to despondency, suicidal depression and the near commission of that fatal act a few months prior to the 1977 NFL Draft. My 12-gauge shotgun was to have been the means to an end to chase away my demons to finally be set free from all the pain, guilt, anguish and defeat that I felt. Saying “NO” to that contract offer really tore me up inside. During the years that followed, it left me with a “what if” scenario leaving its curious footprints of conjecture on my mind.
Was playing for the Steelers a vision of your childhood dream or just the chance to play for a team in the NFL?
As a nine year old kid, I had been asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Who hasn’t been asked that question growing up as a kid, right? I answered: “I’m either going to be a professional baseball player or professional football player.” The football card trumped the baseball card my senior year in high school, and my destiny was set to chase that childhood dream to play in the NFL. Then I accepted a football scholarship to the University of Washington. The Pittsburgh Steelers organization was definitely a team that would have fulfilled that dream quite nicely.
They had become a favorite team of mine due in large part because some former University of Washington football players had played for the Steelers. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? One had been a linebacker coach in 1973-74 at Washington — Chuck Allen. Chuck had just finished his career with the Steelers in 1972; my freshman year. Another former great Husky was the Steelers starting center at that time Ray Mansfield. In 1976, one of my freshman teammates had become the Steelers 2nd round draft pick that spring. His name is Ray Pinney.
Adding to this anxiety of turning down that contract offer then, had been another major contributing factor that the Steelers had been set on my radar. When I completed my junior year of football in 1975 one of my teammates and weight room training partners was a new freshman offensive lineman named Jeff Toews. JT’s oldest brother Loren was the Steelers starting weak-side linebacker for their famed “Steel Curtain Defense” that year. During Christmas break, Jeff, his other brother Tim, their dad and I were in attendance at the L.A. Coliseum for the Rams/Steelers game. After the game, Jeff introduced me to Loren and his good friend and teammate — Pro Bowl starting offensive tackle — Jon Kolb.
I had always been an Oakland Raiders fan/wannabe as a kid growing up in Sacramento, CA. This was due to that same uncle who had asked that same “growing up” question of me. He owned Oakland Raiders season tickets. One of my high school football coaches had backed up NFL Hall of Famer Jim Otto at center and I had met future Hall of Fame quarterback Daryl Lamonica as a high school freshman football player. Of course those earlier visions of a childhood dream with the Raiders began to take serious form then, but when I met Loren; and especially Jon — because of Jon’s physical prominence from the dedicated weight training regimen he maintained, I felt an instant connection with Jon.
Through my dedicated training, I had become the strongest football player on our UW team. I thought at that point when I was standing next to Jon and a bit taller and only a few pounds lighter that my hope of playing in the NFL could definitely be realized in terms of physical stature. Meeting Jon that memorable night made it very real and tangible for me. So my thought was to make it a goal to play for the Steelers since they were big on weight training and it was something that I really loved as well.
With this, it was readily apparent that Pittsburgh really loved their sports teams… That was all very positive stuff. With Terry Bradshaw as the quarterback then and the Steelers coming off back-to-back Super Bowl championships with the great group of players that Chuck Noll had amassed — what college football player from my time period wouldn’t want to have a chance to play for the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers?! That Steelers’ team also included second year middle linebacker Jack Lambert who had been one of Don James’s former charges at Kent State before The Dawgfather brought his “James Gang” to the UW in 1975.
Again, saying NO to the Steelers was a major blow to me emotionally and mentally. Saying NO thwarted any chances to bring that earlier childhood dream to fruition and staking a claim to be part of an elite, exclusive fraternity of highly accomplished athletes.
What were the circumstances that led you to consider suicide and what stopped you?
While at Washington in 1976, I was poised to have a great senior year. Don James was in his second year at the UW. Future NFL head coach Jim Mora was my defensive line coach. Coach James had related to sports writers during their annual west coast swing as the “Skywriters Tour” visited PAC-8 college football programs he related that:
“Kevin is the biggest, fastest, strongest lineman on the team. He’s so strong he could probably pick up the end of the building! We expect great things from him this year.”
His statements to the media that day, which soon appeared in my hometown newspaper that I had read the following week, became burned into my memory. His statement provided greater affirmation of the fact that I was on track to fulfill my childhood dream that was growing ever closer each wakening day. Coach James’s comments came on the heels of our mini combine that he had initiated that year by testing the entire team and ranking us according to athletic ability. I was ranked #11 of all 125 plus tested. The two successive weeks before the testing I had bench pressed 485lbs — all natural and steroid free. I took great pride in the fact that I was a natural athlete utilizing only vitamin supplements and a strict diet to enhance my natural ability
The day of the testing I bench pressed 465lbs five or six times in the presence of coaches, teammates and some NFL scouts — missing my goal of hitting 485lbs again. A pound here, an inch there or a tenth of a second could mean higher status regarding your potential professional stock and trade.
There was also a scout from the Steelers at that time who always made it a point to talk with me when he came to visit and evaluated potential talent for the Steelers. He seemed a cut above from all the other scouts that had engaged me during my college years. We connected well. I wish I could remember his name because he was a sincere, down to earth, class guy and related that he had played for the Steelers. He always looked me straight in the eyes. No pretense whatsoever. Our recurring discussions gave me the sense that I could possibly be drafted by the Steelers in the upcoming spring draft in 1977. Some of my deeper thoughts of course, reflected back to meeting Jon Kolb. Those tangible reflections occasionally acted as a point of continued inspiration to press on and attain the prize.
Just prior to Coach James’ comments at the start of our two-a-day camp, I had been told by a close personal friend and trusted teammate that he had overheard pro scouts talking about me. One had commented to the others that he considered me to be the strongest defensive lineman in the country from what he had seen during his cross-country junkets evaluating collegiate talent. This Steelers scout was standing next to inside linebackers coach Jim Lambright, who had recruited me to the UW. When I jumped up in jubilation from the bench, pumped full of adrenaline and endorphins popping in my brain, I turned in Lambo’s direction and noticed the Steelers scout wide-eyed expression — which at that moment became another great affirmation that I had just left a favorable impression in his and my coach’s mind.
Back peddling to the first question for a moment… When the draft came around and I had been passed over during both days, the next morning the phone rang and it was this same Steelers scout. He offered me a contract to play for the Steelers. He quickly sensed from our conversation that I seemed depressed. I told him how appreciative I was of the offer, but I had to say “no” because something just wasn’t right with me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I told him that I wouldn’t sign a contract unless I was 100% because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. He offered some motivation and commenting that when I was back on track to give him a call and that contract would still be waiting for me. As a 22-year old kid who had been chasing that one big dream all those years, it was nice consolation considering the events of that time; even though it was tearing me up inside. In reflection while I have been writing my book, my regressive mind often ponders how differently things would have been had I signed that contract regardless of my depressed state and especially what the Steelers weight room might have been like training next to the likes of Big Jon Kolb, L.C. Greenwood, “Mean” Joe Greene and legendary center Mike Webster, my old Husky freshman class teammate Ray Pinney and the other “Steel Curtain” strongmen of that era.
After the third game — following our loss to Lee Corso’s bottom of the ratings Indiana Hoosier football team — I was set on second team behind a freshman that I had been asked by Coach Mora to mentor, coach in the weight room and be a big brother of sorts while he transitioned to college football. His name is Doug Martin. Dougy ultimately became a defensive star at Washington and the Minnesota Vikings 1st pick in the 1980 draft where he played his entire 10 year NFL career. Doug’s older brother George is the current president of the Retired NFLPA.
I remained on second team behind Doug for five games in a row, despite the following week’s win over Tony Dungy and his Minnesota teammates 38-7. In that game, in a backup role, I sacked Dungy on successive plays, tipped a pass of his that was nearly intercepted and garnered 4 tackles and 3 assists. Some things you always remember, especially when it relates to a childhood dream. To this day, I can still see Tony’s wide brown eyes in shock and fearfully peering from behind his face mask as I brought him to the turf. The effort that day in Husky Stadium put me in front of sportswriters and the media after the game and I gained hearty approval from Jim Mora. I felt I had redeemed my starting position, but had not. It was hard to accept because I always gave my heart and soul to chase the “W’s” on the scoreboard.
The psycho-social-physical and mental stressors I was experiencing during a time when I was supposed to shine as a starting senior defensive lineman expected to play in the NFL and subsequently relegated to a backup role for five games in the heart of the season was devastating. This was a time when I was experiencing unknown physiological effects that I would not learn of and only a brief part about until three years later which had caused me to become despondent and suicidal shortly after the season had ended. It became a hell that I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy.
What stopped me? It came down to one thing and one thing only… LOVE. At that very moment when I stood up from sitting on the edge of my bed to retrieve my shotgun, a comforting voice spoke to me about love and my life hasn’t been the same since. Those precipitating events of my senior year have led me to writing a book. I first began composing it in January 2010 regarding that earlier point in my life when I felt that my childhood dream had been shattered — and the aftermath of what I ultimately discovered 33 years after turning down that contract offer with the Steelers and many others in that spring of 1977.
You mentioned that you are writing a book. What is the title? How did you get started writing your book?
I must have changed the title of my book a dozen times or so during the course of this neophyte writing adventure which continues to evolve. The final title that I have settled on for my book is COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE.
After what I had experienced in 1977 surrounding my dance with the devil and had come to share later with family, friends and some strangers back then, the common thread of discussion and encouragement was that I should write a book due to the compelling nature of my story. Many felt by journalizing my thoughts that it would not only be enlightening to those who came to read my book, but by doing so; it would prove cathartic as well. It has.
In 1985 the energy seemed to circle back on those earlier thoughts of writing a book. However, it seemed everything hitting the bookstands, magazines and newspapers dealt with the onset of the AIDS epidemic and not much else. So my story was again stuffed back inside one of those crowded dusty old drawers of memories locked deep in my mind. It remained dormant and locked away in that old filing cabinet of bitter-sweet memories and better off to be forgotten in my mind until it began to surface again.
The seed was planted to finally write my book from attending my high school graduating classes’ 36-year reunion on September 20, 2008. I had learned that one of my former football teammates that I had shared defensive All-Conference honors with would be in attendance. I was excited to see Mark because we had not seen one another in that entire 36 year stretch. Adding to the excitement to reconnect and share our life experiences was the fact that Mark was the president of Disney Motion Pictures and its world-wide marketing chief for Disney, Pixar, Touchstone Pictures and Disneynature Films. When we reconnected that evening, he asked an unassuming, innocent little question that triggered something deep inside of me.
In the months and the time that has followed, a series of other compelling events have arrived in my life to the point where I began thinking again about penning my sequestered past to the page. I didn’t know if I wanted or even owned the courage to step back into that deep, dark space and dredge up those long since buried memories. But something began nipping at my mind’s heel and just wouldn’t let go. It soon became a huge, impassable lump under one of my mind’s hallway carpets that I had to constantly maneuver around. It became necessary to roll it back, calculatingly and accurately sweeping up the mess and smooth out the carpet again so I wouldn’t keep tripping over it when I walked down that once dimly lit hallway hidden deep within my searching mind.
When I sat down in earnest and began the committed process of writing this book, often times it has proved to be emotionally jarring and psychologically challenging. This self-imposed regression therapy has taught me a great deal. Soon after Mark’s question, this journey led to reconnecting with many of my old teammates, friends, coaches and another figure from my past, “The Incredible Hulk”— Lou Ferrigno. A kind act by Lou from that earliest point of my writing journey has been akin to holding onto a lightning bolt. As with Mark, I owe Lou a huge debt of gratitude. It has positively empowered me from the energy this experience has created. It has been one remarkable, amazing ride and continues to be so every single day.
So what will or do you hope that your book conveys to your reading audience?
This has been somewhat of a conundrum of sorts to pin things down on how I will convey my story. The spiritual mountaintop experience that set a completely different visual acuity in place is amazing in itself. But with this, it’s imperative that I meet the “felt need” of my reader, which goes directly to the marketing viability of any literary product. I became somewhat derailed last July when a well tenured and highly respected literary agent I had connected with said that he would work with me and asked if I was heading down the path of writing — what he termed as a “straight memoir.” He related that it would not be sellable since the publishing world is already so inundated with celebrity memoirs that are continually being stuffed on the book shelves as well as those of other “name” people.
Because I’m just that guy over the back fence; simply a “nobody” in terms of the publishing world’s view of things, I have had to creatively and strategically rethink my approach. Not just with my story telling, but whether mainstream publishing or self-publishing is the most viable method to utilize this goal. Things have changed dramatically in publishing over the last few years with the advent of the E-book and E-readers on the market today. Like many, I prefer to feel the page’s texture and sense the book’s tell-tale smell of the words that lay on the page. Besides, a book needs no battery!
This experience with all of its discoveries has also been deeply spiritual for me to say the least. The redemption I have realized from the spiritual awakening and resulting enlightenment experience with its galvanizing transformational power has opened the multiple, magical and enchanting doors to discovering the physiological anomalies that affected me so drastically considering the mentally, physically and emotionally upsetting experiences I harbored during those 33 years. I have since come to discover physical aspects relative to my Strabismus eyesight condition from which I also seem to possess overlapping ADD/ADHD tendencies. Inebriating, intrusive little gremlins whose impish tendencies of which I am coping with daily to finish this task of writing my book and stay on point.
When you are trained to be a “DO IT NOW – DO IT RIGHT – PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL” person and what you feel to be divinely inspired spiritual directives by pursuing your Light and remaining spiritually obedient — this perceived mental bouncing around by the so-called “experts” can seem congruent to those underlying conditions associated with ADD/ADHD. So the research is ongoing. I have to perceive this as a gift. If I don’t, the darkness begins to invade the Light once again. It truly is… spiritual warfare.
I had been misdiagnosed and had carried a disdainful psychiatric label of manic depression — mostly in my mind, because it really wasn’t me — for those 33 years when more discoveries have surfaced over the last eighteen months which have now disproved those misconceived earlier findings. Food sensitivities, adolescent Rheumatic Fever, adrenal burnout, Seasonal Affective Disorder along with aspects of entitlement and Narcissistic tendencies inherent in many highly competitive athletes have shown up. Adding to this are the potential maladies associated with brain tissue damage from being a football player and incurring the repetitive helmet strikes during practice and game day encounters.
One of my early mentors, Forrest Blue, the San Francisco 49ers former All-Pro center from the late 60’s and 70’s passed away last July as a result of suffering from two different brain conditions tied to his football playing endeavors… His dream too, was eventually shattered. Forrest was a very intelligent man, but his final curtain call was devastating and heart shattering to his family and close friends. In this, I consider myself the lucky one compared to many of my contemporaries like my respected mentor — “Big Tree.”
In order to craft my book most accurately, I am in the ongoing process of discovering more answers to why I experienced what I had so long ago. This is the part that has the greatest scientific impact and presence with the day to day experiences I encounter concerning the psychological and psychiatric clinical view relating to my past and present experiences. It’s very difficult to “trust” such clinical practitioners who haven’t “been there or done that” in a real world environment of highly competitive Division 1 and professional football. To treat one effectively, you truly have to have been one in the trenches and have played on that shared modern day battlefield. To really know it, you have to have experienced it. Since I’ve lived it, I’m a reputable expert from my experiences which create the greatest learning curve we will ever know.
Many of these discoveries began to surface when I reconnected with my former college training partner Dave Pear. When I reconnected with Dave on May 15, 2009 and thru his popular blogsite www.davepear.com I became involved with world renowned psychiatrist and multiple NY Times bestselling author, Daniel G. Amen, MD. www.amenclinics.com Daniel’s work with ADD/ADHD, diet, vitaminization and the findings surrounding the concussion study he released last year from evaluating 30 former NFL football players has added greatly in my pursuit of the truth. The spiritual truth has been fully realized and I have discovered and embraced totally a freedom like I have not ever before experienced. My life’s foundation became solid. Daniel has facilitated this process immensely and quite frankly, he is the only psychiatric practitioner I trust.
Now I am set about tying up the loose ends regarding the mind/body dynamic to allow and feel my ego’s mental vindication and exoneration. This earlier “bad information” also cost me a career in law enforcement because of the initial manic depression misdiagnosis. In a slight comparative measure, it could be similar to coping with PTSD — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is found most predominantly in military veterans. I have a close author friend and Viet Nam veteran who I counsel with from time to time as a life/skills coach and it’s interesting to hear and learn of the parallels we share from our different experiences. The mind/body dynamic becomes the framing components of the top two functions of a pyramid paradigm that I refer to as Life’s Golden Triangle – Your Perfect Circle with the underlying base components identified as the spirit/soul dynamic. This has become fodder for yet another book once I have successfully waded through this murkier and deep, dark pond surrounding my past.
Do you have a publisher for your book yet and why did you settle on your book’s title COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE?
When I began this process, I initially thought that I would self-publish my book as an autobiographical compendium and accounting of my life. It was intended for my family first, friends and former coaches and teammates so they would better understand what had shocked them back then and left them confounded and scratching their heads wondering why I just walked away from everything I had worked so hard to achieve and then seemed “manic” several months later. After I had written the original ten chapters of my book, it was through a networking associate that I came to share a lengthy phone conversation with a board member for the Artists and Athletes Alliance from Washington D.C. During the call, he invited me and paid my way to attend a private function in Beverly Hills on July 15, 2010.
At this event, I sat next to actor Stephen Baldwin which opened another door to bigger possibilities along with talking with a self-publishing firm a few weeks earlier that embraces first-time authors. From this, the directed wisdom and motivational feel was that I secure a literary agent and seek mainstream publication due to my story’s compelling content. I have connected with different literary agents. I have not signed any contracts to date since learning so much more about this business. From sharing conversations with many author friends, I am not totally convinced that having a literary agent and following mainstream publishing is the best route. So, this is still a point of contention, as I am still surveying this uneven, bumpy terrain to discover the best possible approach in having my story told.
I have been fortunate in this process to have become acquainted and friends with many bestselling and NY Times bestselling authors along with some very talented screenwriters as well. All have offered some very encouraging advice along with their inspirational and motivational support. Reading, feeling and hearing their kindly offered words is a continuing welcome measure of support and encouragement bolstering my ongoing pursuit. Writing this book has literally changed my life from the inside out. The gratitude I have come to feel and embrace is that manifesting “one ray of hope” that continues to inspire and motivate me to persevere daily. My greatest hope with this literary sojourn is that my story will assist another with their life’s journey and create a tangible guidepost, or a map of sorts to avoid the many pitfalls that I encountered.
The final title of my book — COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE — was spawned during a phone conversation I shared on May 3, 2010 with a longstanding bestselling author and as one being from a shared background. He was a former NCAA Division III small college football player. During our conversation I related that:
“It’s one thing to believe, but quite another to commit. If you really want to realize your hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals and especially your heart’s desire, it really comes down to a commitment to believe in the process 100% in order to reach and achieve your goal. You really have to get to that wholly defined focal point where you COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE!”
With that comment, my friend exclaimed: “That’s going to be huge! You better get on GoDaddy right now and register that as your website domain! I love it!!” I heeded his exclamatory suggestion, and as a result — COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE — became this shortened down version of a much lengthier book title.
Are there other interests you pursue or is your book writing your main focus? Do you speak to groups about your experiences and upcoming book? How can our readers learn more about you?
As I stated earlier, writing this book has completely changed my life. It has done so on the outside as well as what it did to affect me on the inside where it matters the most. As a result, one of my many currently directed focal points is assisting a good friend of mine — Curt Sampson — www.texasgolftraveler.com who is a NY Times bestselling golf author. I’m lending support for his pre-publishing, promotional and marketing branding concepts and helping to secure “name” endorsers for his upcoming book about the 1991 Ryder Cup matches contested at Kiawah Island. Curt’s book is titled The War By The Shore.
Barring any publishing hiccups — it should be out through Gotham Books which is an imprint of publishing giant Random House, sometime in June/July. Curt is probably the most diligent, in depth respected golf author and free lance golf writer out there stumping the golf arena. I heartily concur, as does Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel. I wish I could relate some of the behind the scenes tidbits and details of this amazing adventure with Curt, but we want you to buy the book for all those interesting “stories within a story” details. Sorry…
I welcome the opportunity to speak to groups across many fronts concerning my experiences. Outwardly and honestly relating and conveying those deeply personal events surrounding suicide and the opposing love I experienced which pulled me back from that darkened precipice and what I had kept buried and then allowed to surface, makes for very interesting engagements with an audience. It is all about reality. People are tired of sizzle. They want steak! The first group I spoke to was a group of high schoolers. I took them on a captivating roller coaster ride laced with deep emotion and mixed with insightful humor.
This is why I am writing my book, so I can tell my story whether through print or relating it in person by standing in front of an audience. We can all use that “one ray of hope” in our lives to face the challenges we encounter daily as we continually fight the good fight. I am frequently coaching others around the country over the phone during the course of any of my day’s encounters from these well-heeled life lessons I have been blessed to encounter and of which I am glad to share.
When the Light you see fades to black – as day turns into night – and if you feel that you may not see the Light of day again; “COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE” that you will, because day will always follow the night… It’s Universal law.
Visit my website at: www.COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE.com to learn more about me. If you wish to contact me regarding any possible speaking engagements, please click on the tab labeled “Contact Kevin” which is found on the far right of my website.
Thanks for your time and eyes on!
Remember… It’s one thing to believe, it’s quite another to commit. COMMIT-TO-BELIEVE!!