Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly indicated that Washington Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs works out at Planet Fitness in Potomac. He works out at Rockville Fitness in Kensington.

Playing With Pain

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shawn Springs was suffocating. His father was in a coma in Texas. His stepmother had had cancer diagnosed. He and his wife had separated, their 1-year-old son leaving with her. So he backpedaled. He stopped answering most phone calls and for a few months he left home rarely unless it was for a workout. At his most despondent, the cornerback considered retiring from the Washington Redskins, walking away from $5 million this season, and maybe becoming a teacher or buying land and building a house near his family in Dallas.

"I felt overwhelmed, like: 'What can I do? How can I simplify things? What can I cut back on?' " Springs said. "I just wanted to simplify everything and be a normal dude and take my son to the park and just chill and breathe."

He confided only in his personal trainer and a few family members. He said nothing to the Redskins, not wanting this emotional period to be confused with a contract ploy. He skipped the team's voluntary workouts but that was expected because he had done the same thing a year earlier, preferring to work out alone.

"I didn't really watch TV, because every time I'd turn on the news it's like, 'Why isn't Shawn Springs coming to practice?' " Springs said. "And I was just over that. I didn't really answer no phone calls; I didn't really come out of the house that much."

Eventually he regained his mooring. Many unresolved issues remain, but Springs has a renewed fondness for the game that he found by returning, at age 33, to the sport in its most basic form. And when Redskins players report to training camp today, Springs will again be among them, beginning his 12th NFL season.

"I don't want to say I was depressed, because I wasn't depressed, but I was just like done [with football], man," Springs said. "I was really dragging for a month or so. I was hurting."

A Trying Time

Ron Springs always has been his son's anchor, the first person he turned to for advice about football or life. Not being able to call on him during these times was particularly painful for Shawn. Ron Springs went into a coma last October after what the family believed would be routine surgery to remove a cyst. Doctors have been able to take him off a ventilator and he can breathe on his own, but he lies motionless on a hospital bed in Dallas with his son's belief in a miracle fading.

"I'm to the point where for me -- and just for me, this is just my words and not representing other family members -- for me it's hard to still see my dad laying in the hospital," Springs said. "I'd rather see God save his soul or him somehow wake up. And if that's not going to happen then just let him be at peace."

Taking his oldest sons -- 9-year old twins Samari and Skylar, who reside with their mother in Ohio -- to visit his father in the hospital this offseason was most difficult.

"It brought tears to my eyes to see them look at my father," Springs said. "They know what a coma is, but it's like he's sleeping and they stare at him, and they're afraid to talk to him and they don't know what to do. I don't think you can prepare yourself for stuff like that."

Watching his father linger in a vegetative state just a short time after losing teammate Sean Taylor to a senseless slaying had been trying enough. Then Springs's stepmother, Adriane, had breast cancer diagnosed this winter.

Adriane Springs has always been the consummate companion to her husband, whisking him to myriad appointments as he battled acute diabetes, losing a foot to the disease and ultimately requiring a kidney transplant. When Shawn Springs learned of her cancer diagnosis, he was devastated.

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