Charles Rogers died at 38. The age is something that really hits you when you think that players are now playing into their 40s. However it’s fair to think Rogers only got to live half a life and it’s fair to wonder if he even got that.
He was the number two pick in the 2003 draft by the Detroit Lions but only played 15 games. Rogers was a big time talent who couldn’t stay on the field and struggled to figure out life off of it. You could watch him run one route and think ‘Wow! This is so easy for him.’ That was the least accurate and most unfair thing you could say. Rogers unfortunately is considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
From the outside looking in, a lot of people pass judgment on athletes because they believe they were given this special ability. The negative narrative normally sounds something like, you wasted it away. But it’s not that simple. There are various complexities in people’s lives.
Rogers while a child, was from violence plagued Saginaw, and football provided a way out. But like a lot of gifted athletes, he had no answers for what to do after he got out of Saginaw. Rogers was not a natural leader, he was not the hardest worker. Rogers did not have the personal discipline that an athlete needs to become great. He was not equipped with so much of what a person needs to succeed in the world, but his curse was that we so casually described him as blessed. He was blessed with speed, there’s no doubt about it. But a man can’t run from everything. Sooner or later whatever your running from will catch up with you.
This was the news that people feared to hear about Rogers, even if you didn’t know his health was failing, or before he said he had battled painkiller addiction, before he flamed out in the NFL, even before he tested positive for a masking agent at the 2003 NFL combine.
When Rogers left Michigan State after three seasons, he was already slipping. It’s claimed people who knew him then, wondered if he was emotionally ready for professional football. But this was hard for most people to see. His talent was his masking agent.
Baggage Weighing Down
By the sounds of it Rogers definitely had some baggage that he hadn‘t unpacked in the way he needed to, to navigate a career in football and most importantly, in life.
Teammates describe Rogers as nice. As former Lions center Dominic Raiola said “The guy, he was a great teammate. James Hall former Lions defensive end recalls Rogers being “Very unassuming, quiet guy. People think they knew him. They didn’t really know him. Very, very well-liked. Humble, great personality, knew how to engage with people. People just loved him.”
But so often, it’s the nice guys who want to be liked. The nice guys want to fit in. The nice guys can’t say no. They don’t want to act bigger than the people they always knew. They don’t want to leave anybody behind.
Everything you expect a young athlete not to do, Rogers seems to have probably done it.
How talented was Rogers? If you compared him to Randy Moss, you wouldn’t be too far off. He had sprinter’s speed and soft hands. He was not quite as tall as Moss, but he played like a bigger man because he moved like a smaller one. Once in a while, you will see an athlete with uncommon straight line speed for his size. But Rogers was not just fast. He was fluid and that made a dangerous combination.
He was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft. Andre Johnson, who went onto a Hall of Famer quality career with the Texans, went third. This made sense at the time with Rogers skill set setting him apart, not massively but enough to make a difference.
Rogers Lacked Support
It’s easy to wonder if Rogers would have had a different career, and a different life, if he had left the state of Michigan for college or pro ball. If he got away from Saginaw sooner. This is probably an over simplification of the man’s life but it implies that he could have succeeded if he could just start over at age 18 or 21. What he probably needed, and what was not easily available to pro athletes at that time, was mental health support.
He needed to see that being a sweet guy with freakish athleticism was not a sound business plan. Looking back at Rogers, physically, he was not really built for football. He broke his collarbone twice. And once his skills started eroding, there wasn’t enough left to hold him up.
Various reports have linked Rogers death to cancer or liver failure. Other reports had suspected Rogers was suffering from kidney failure. For so long, many of us have wondered what Rogers could have given us. Maybe the real question we should have asked, is what we could have given him.