If you have ever wondered why NFL teams go to such extreme measures to judge the character and personality of NFL Draft prospects, look no further than 1999, when the Minnesota Vikings selected Dimitrius Underwood with the 29th overall pick.
Underwood’s Wikipedia page reads like a harrowing psychological thriller:
After being drafted, he signed a five year, $5.3 million contract on August 1, 1999 but walked out of training camp the next day and never returned, saying he could not resolve the conflict between playing football and serving his Christian faith. The Vikings released him later that month.
Underwood would later change his mind and decided to return to the NFL. He was claimed on waivers by the Miami Dolphins after 23 teams passed on him, but showed a lack of focus towards football. Multiple times during team meetings, Underwood was found not taking notes, but instead writing about the apocalypse. He only played one preseason game for the Dolphins before getting injured.
In September 1999, Underwood was arrested by police for failure to pay child support. Within 24 hours, he attempted to commit suicide by slashing his own neck with a cutlass before repeatedly yelling “I’m not worthy of God.”
According to his mother, an ordained minister, his behavior had been influenced by attending the Immanuel’s Temple Community Church in Lansing, Michigan, which she describes as a “cult that’s posing as a church.”
Underwood later spent two months in protective care and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After he escaped from a psychiatric care facility, he was released from the Dolphins in December 1999.
He later signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys. During the 2000-2001 seasons, Underwood had 21 tackles and four sacks in 19 games. In January 2001, he tried to kill himself for the second time by running into traffic twice on a busy suburban highway. The Cowboys released him later that month.
Underwood served stints in the Dallas County Jail for Aggravated Robbery, Assault on Public Servant, and Evading Arrest starting in 2002. Underwood spent his time locked down in a closed custody cell.
“I don’t care what a player is like off the field,” you say. “As long as he can produce on Sundays.”
That’s the attitude the Vikings took toward Underwood. He wasn’t a gamble — he was a ticking time bomb. In time, front offices have come to realize mental illness can be more disruptive than a 4.4 40-yard-dash time. My wish is that players deemed a risk because of mental health issues are being treated with all of the care and sensitivity of a first-round pick with a history of knee problems.