A Boulder police spokeswoman, Sarah Huntley, told the Denver Post that a passerby saw the body Monday night in Eben G. Fine Park and called police. “We don’t believe there was foul play,” she said. The county coroner’s office identified the body as Salaam but did not specify a cause of death.
But his stepfather, Hakim Alaji, in a brief phone interview with The Washington Post from the family’s home in San Diego, confirmed that authorities told the family that it appeared Salaam committed suicide and that he had left a note. Alaji said he was not aware of any recent mental health issues with Salaam.
USA Today quoted his mother, Khalada, saying “they said they found a note and would share that with us when we get” to Boulder.
Salaam was a high school all-American at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego, playing eight-man football and rushing for an amazing 4,965 yards and 105 touchdowns. He was recruited to Colorado in 1992.
In his junior year, 1994, he won the Heisman, rushing for 2,055 yards, leading the Colorado Buffaloes to an 11-1 finish and a No. 3 ranking nationally.
Chad Brown, a former Colorado teammate, told the Denver Post that Salaam’s running style was the key to his dominance. At 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, “he had a more upright running style. He was a huge moves kind of guy, but he was running so fast when he threw those moves that it made it difficult to tackle him. He was a great combination of size, strength and ability to make you miss.”
He skipped his final year of NCAA eligibility and the Chicago Bears drafted him as the 21st overall pick in 1995. In his rookie NFL season, he rushed for 1,074 yards, a record for a player his age, and 10 touchdowns. But then he flopped, gaining only 496 yards the following season before the Bears let him go. He tried without success to make a comeback with the Cleveland Browns in 1999.
“I was very young, very immature, and I think that caught up to me,” he told the Denver Post in 2014. “I was 20 years old, going on 21, so I wasn’t ready mentally, physically or spiritually going into the NFL.”
He also acknowledged struggling with depression and a dependency on marijuana.
As his game deteriorated, he told the Denver Post in 1999, “I was going through a depression stage and the only way I could medicate myself was to use marijuana. That was the wrong thing to do. But I thought it could help me out . . . I was depressed. It was a time in my life when things were just falling apart.”
Dave Plati, associate athletic director at Colorado and a close friend of Salaam’s, told the AP that Salaam “had these kind of demons inside of him. I was as close to him as anybody and loved the guy . . . and wish I could have noticed or done something for him or wished that he would have called me.”
Brown, the former teammate, told the Denver Post that over the last five or six years, “it was a little bit of a journey trying to figure out where he was, what was going on and what direction his life was going to take. But he always seemed to maintain that same smile I remember. That was Rashaan.”
The Colorado Buffaloes Facebook page was filled with tributes and memories.
“I am in complete shock,” wrote Deanna Ardrey. “Rashaan is my next door neighbor who literally shares our driveway. He was part of our daily lives. My heart goes out to his family and friends. He was an extremely talented and kind man. He will be missed.”
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