Dick Harmon: Max Hall incident both a reminder and wake-up call
Jason Olson, Deseret News
Who really knows the demons that haunt Max Hall? Ones that led to his arrest for allegedly shoplifting and possessing cocaine and an admission of wrongdoing last weekend in Gilbert, Arizona.
The news was shocking. But if it serves as a wake-up call and gets Hall the type of help he seems to need, then the former quarterback and the rest of us may have learned a valuable lesson.
This one goes beyond the rivalry stuff, Hall’s infamous anti-Utah rant, even his mark as BYU’s winningest QB. He has a wife and two children and a pair of loving parents who need this fixed.
The monsters that Hall is facing didn’t arrive overnight and he’s not the first athlete from the BYU family to get into trouble with illegal drugs or prescription medication, a growing issue in the state of Utah.
We do not know the extent of Hall's use or if he used drugs at all, but do know that addiction is no respecter of persons. It comes to lawyers, doctors, housewives, sons, daughters, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. BYU athletes are not immune.
I remember one of my high school heroes, Golden Richards, a former Granite High sprinter who I ran against at the old Snow College Invitational. Richards went on to BYU and the University of Hawaii before making huge plays as a Dallas Cowboy receiver. He left the game and struggled mightily with addiction that has cost him dearly and robbed him of his health, talent and fortune.
There is the story of former Provo High and BYU star Craig Garrick, who blocked alongside current BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Garrick's challenges with beaten-up knees and prescription medication led to an early death. He was the heart and soul of that 1984 offensive line and team that is celebrating its 30th anniversary of winning the national title this year.
There was the 2006 tragic death of Cougar linebacker Brad Martin, whose mounting injuries in the mid-'90s led to overuse of painkillers. It started after he injured his neck in a car accident on his way to practice and was prescribed meds for pain. His demons contributed to two failed marriages and diminished quality of life. He died alone in a Salt Lake City apartment, apparently clean of any drugs but undiscovered for almost a week. An autopsy said he died of respiratory failure. A nicer young man you would never meet on this planet.
In the mid-'80s, a talented tight end from Reno named Trevor Molini was expelled from BYU for misuse of prescription drugs. In July 1987 he was beaten unconscious, hospitalized and had surgery following a Reno night club brawl. He later sued ultimate fighter and UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock in connection with the fight.
But the most famous case involving a former BYU athlete was the controversial death in the Maricopa County (Arizona) jail of former receiver Scott Norberg, a former Mesa High scholar-athlete and Cougar receiver. Norberg, 30, struggled with alcohol and drug use and died while in a jail detention chair. In 1987 his family was awarded an $8.5 million settlement, believed to be the largest taxpayer money award in the history of Arizona.
Witnesses say Norberg was disoriented and unable to respond to demands in jail when he was attacked by as many as 15 detention officers, beaten, kicked, choked with a towel, and attacked with stun guns. His lawyer says he was sick, dehydrated, and in need of medical attention at the time. Witnesses to the attack describe it like a pack of dogs trying to find a way to kill. An inquiry into a fraudulent autopsy on Norberg found missing evidence, including X-rays and Norberg’s larynx.
“It was brutal, senseless, mindless and something no person should have had happen,” said his father Jaron, who is a well-known Arizona lawyer.
There are more of these tragic stories if you take the time to relive them.
The point isn’t that Hall’s situation is an equal comparison, no not at all.
The point is that when faced with certain challenges of substance misuse there are portals that open up and the destination can be terrifying for Hall or any of us.
Hall was at the top of his game when he left BYU in 2009, the school’s second-most prolific passer behind Ty Detmer. He played in the NFL, started in the CFL, and coached at BYU in 2013. He suffered an injury while playing for Winnipeg. Believing he was making a comeback, he sold his house in Arizona. The next day he found he’d been cut by Winnipeg.
At the time of his arrest last week, Hall was living at his in-laws' house in Gilbert, helping coach at a local high school. His father-in-law is a Gilbert police officer. Imagine the shock in that house over the weekend when the arrest came down.
Obviously, Hall’s current state of living is not the high-octane life and lofty dreams of a talented athlete who had been accustomed to winning and receiving accolades all his life.
As we’ve learned from many athletes and film stars, as recently as the departure of legendary NFL superstar Junior Seau, adjusting to life with those very big pieces missing can be the biggest challenge of all.
And that is indeed very sad.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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