Ex-Penn State standout Larry Johnson believes he has CTE, says he's fighting 'demons'

MassLive.com (TNS)
  • Former Penn State standout running back Larry Johnson believes he has CTE.
  • Johnson says the brain disorder is causing him to fight 'demons' of violent behavior.
  • Johnson holds the single-season rushing record at Penn State with more than 2,000 yards in 2002.

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson knows that there's something wrong with his brain.

Larry Johnson is shown here during his days with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The former Penn State standout is telling The Washington Post that he believes he suffers from the degenerative brain disorder CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler who set an NFL record by carrying the ball 416 times in 2006 has been out of the league since 2011. Like many former football players, Johnson now says he suffers from memory loss and what he calls "the demons," impulses toward aggressive behavior or self-harm.

In himself, Johnson sees the potential for much worse. He sees another Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2015 before committing suicide in his jail cell in April. After his death, Hernandez was found to be suffering from a severe case of CTE.

Violent behavior: Johnson, like Hernandez, has a history of violent behavior, which has led to multiple arrests. He also believes that the two share a brain disorder that could bring forth a similar fate.

"I could be Aaron Hernandez," Johnson said to The Post.

Johnson shared stories of his daily struggles with The Post, detailing how he has lost memories of two NFL seasons, and forgets everyday occurrences — like how and why the side-view mirror of his car was broken.

The internal struggle has been a sombering experience for Johnson, who shares custody of his daughter, Jaylen. Johnson says he fears that will forget his own name, and won't be there for when his daughter grows up.

As a result, he's turned to making videos compilations of football highlights to remind himself of who he was as a player, and to act as "a time capsule" for when his daughter is ready.

From The Post:

"If I can't remember who I was, I've got YouTube; I've got music videos that I'm making for myself, so when I watch these things I can remember," he says. "I'm trying to get these things in order so she knows who I am and what I came from."

Of the six times Johnson has been arrested, five were incidents involving an assault against women. Those incidents were a large part of why Johnson's career unraveled after reaching his peak with the Chiefs.

Making lifestyle changes: Johnson tells The Post that he's reduced his drinking, sold his ownership in a club and now works for a nonprofit that works with disadvantaged children. 

Now, Johnson says his focus is to shield his daughter from the violent impulses that still bubble up from time to time, leaving the room or sending her away when he feels a sharp headache or urge coming. Johnson's family says that they "will consider" donating the former NFL star's brain for study after death.

Star at PSU: As a senior at PSU in 2002, Johnson enjoyed a breakout season, rushing for a single-season PSU record 2,087 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. He also had 41 receptions for 349 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per catch. He scored 23 touchdowns.

Johnson finished third in the 2002 Heisman Trophy voting behind USC quarterback Carson Palmer and Iowa quarterback Brad Banks.

Before his senior season at PSU, Johnson had accumulated less than 1,200 yards rushing over three seasons.