Justin Blackmon: Melting Down a Career

Amid the hype and hollering of first round, second round, third round euphoria; amid the hanger’s on, leeches, new-found relatives and long-lost friends, is a voice that is so soft that it is often not heard. It is the voice that is often drowned out in the cacophony of the “on-airs,” agency deals, publicists, endorsement deals; the voice unheard in parties, clubs, backstage passes and celebrity.

Justin Blackmon It is the voice of ethics; of someone teaching a young, frighteningly talented football player like Justin Blackmon about making good choices rather than bad.

The thought of a man such as myself, a middle-aged man with white hair, a bad back and marginal athletic talent, teaching anything to a first round draft pick, might be seen as a sports joke. I have heard such laughter in the past; I have helped those willing to listen. Would he?

When I was caught making some bad choices I was barely older than Blackmon. I was well educated, a rising star in my profession; I was surrounded by “friends” and I attracted “power.” I could do no wrong; I was smarter than everyone else (just ask me back then); I knew more than everyone (just ask me back then).

When I was led away from the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs for committing a felony, the light turned on for the first time that I had outsmarted myself. The only one I had fooled was ultimately, myself. My family, friends, co-workers and contacts had all left me. The party had stopped with a thud.

I know what happens when the string runs out; I know what it feels like to see the world turn and walk away. The voice of ethics I referred to above? Guess what – the whisper becomes a voice and then a scream.

Time passes for everyone

It has been more than 20 years since a counselor told me that although I had made a bad mistake, my life was not a mistake. I was a man who had one of two choices: to continue on a bad path or to devote every ounce of my existence to making good decisions for my life.

Obviously, I took the better path and then a strange thing began to happen; I became immersed in the world of ethics. I learned and read and studied everything I could on ethics; making good choices and the consequences of poor decisions.

Over the years, my studies led me to talks with friends, then small groups and finally to audiences and personal consultation. I have lectured and taught classes on ethics across the U.S. and overseas.

Justin Blackmon didn’t have 20 plus years; he had barely more than months in a brief career. He was in the league for the flicker of a candle. The candle has just about burned out following his third violation of the NFL’s substance abuse program. He was the fifth pick of the first round in 2012; by week 8 of the 2013 season he was gone. He tested positive in-season and off-season. His drugs of choice were alcohol and marijuana. Though he went through rehab in 2014,  at the scene of a traffic violation in 2014, the police again found that his car reeked of marijuana.

None of the programs he has been involved with have worked. None of the yelling and screaming, bleating and crying from experts and social workers have gotten to him. Now, he probably feels so low and so beat up he would rather walk away from the game than do the work necessary to make it back.

I understand those feelings more than most.

Here is a quote from General Manager, David Caldwell as told to Mike DiRocco at ESPN:

“I have not heard anything and I guess I harbor a little bit of hope, but realistically I think when you’re away from the game for two and a half years, what you were once is not what you probably will be. Your skills do erode, and especially if you’re not staying in tip-top shape and you’re not in football shape.”

Upon his suspension Blackmon’s contract was moved to a place of administrative limbo. Why would anyone on the Jaguars care about Justin Blackmon at this point? When he was on the field, he was damn good, that’s why. He was considered the best wide receiver in the 2012 draft class and in his all too brief stint in the NFL, he did not disappoint. In fact, he is still technically with the team.

Wherever he is right now physically, Justin Blackmon is in a prison of his own making. Once, a long time ago, I too was in a prison of my own making. I would imagine that many of the people who once surrounded him have gone on their way. Those types are always looking for other circuses to follow.

He has seen where bad choices lead; always to bad consequences. I have never seen it fail. There is something though, I wish I could tell him face to face: life can and does give us second chances. The second chances do not come without hard work and good ethical choices.

Yet, second chances are still possible for him; inside football or out. He is not a mistake.


Chuck Gallagher

President, Sports Ethics LLC


(828) 244-1400




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