Ten years ago last month, Charlie Rogers stood in front of the media wearing a Detroit Lions baseball cap and proudly holding his brand new Honolulu blue and silver jersey with a No. 1 on the front, signifying his status as a first-round draft choice.
There were smiles all around. President Matt Millen smiled. New coach Steve Mariucci smiled. Chairman Bill Ford Jr. smiled. Lions fans all over the country smiled.
It was a giddy time.
The Lions felt like they were on to something. The year prior, the team drafted its "franchise quarterback" when it selected Joey Harrington from Oregon.
Now the Lions were adding Rogers, out of Michigan State, to be the franchise receiver.
Finally, a real quarterback-receiver tandem!
Harrington proved himself to be a bust—a nice young man, but he lacked the intangibles needed to be a winning professional quarterback. The Lions did him no favors, never able to surround Harrington with bona fide talent. Within three years, the Lions pulled the plug on the Harrington era.
Rogers was a bust, too, maybe one of the biggest in NFL history. But his problem wasn’t lack of talent. It was lack of moral character and decency.
The Lions, as usual under Millen’s leadership, failed to do their due diligence before drafting Rogers. Had they done some digging, they likely would have learned about Charlie’s skeletons at MSU. The failed drug tests, for one—Rogers failed one each year at MSU, it came to light years later—and according to some MSU folks, Rogers wasn’t exactly the hardest-working player on the team.
But Rogers was loaded with talent. In his last season at MSU (2002), Rogers won the Paul Warfield Trophy as the best college wide receiver in the country. He was a unanimous first-team All-American.
It never came close to happening for Rogers in the NFL.
Rogers was released by the Lions just before the 2006 season, after two seasons cut short by injury and one cut short by multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, resulting in suspension. His NFL career consisted of 15 games played with 36 catches for 440 yards and four TDs.
In 2008, Rogers was arrested for assault and battery of his girlfriend. In a separate incident, he violated probation, testing positive for the pain killer Vicodin. In 2009 he was arrested in Novi for drunk driving. Less than a year later, Rogers was arrested again, having passed out drunk—again in Novi.
It was easy for those of us not connected to Charlie Rogers personally to smirk and shake our heads at his misadventures. No matter how many times he got arrested, Charlie Rogers was still known as “that NFL bust.” He wasn’t a person—and that was the problem.
Rogers didn’t have an inner circle of friends who gave two you-know-whats about him once his NFL days were done. He had tons of “friends” when football was his world—a world that he, at times, appeared to have in the palm of his big hand.
But when the football was in the rear-view mirror, Rogers’ posse evaporated. They moved on to other folks on whose coat tails they could ride.
Charlie Rogers was troubled, but worse than that, he was alone.
Lacking a support group of sorts, Rogers kept getting into trouble.
In 2010, Rogers was ordered to return to the Lions $6.1 million of the $9.1 singing bonus he received in 2003. A judge agreed with the Lions’ contention that Rogers’ drug use equated a breach of contract.
In December 2011, Rogers was pulled over in Saginaw. Police found an open container of alcohol in his vehicle. That incident is still without resolution. Possible charges are pending.
Throughout all of these misadventures, Charlie Rogers was never helped. No one took Rogers in. No one reached out to him. He wasn’t a star football player anymore, so screw him—that seemed to be the attitude.
Today, Rogers is approaching his 32nd birthday in less than a week (May 23). He has no future to speak of. He never earned his degree from MSU. He is, perhaps, unemployable.
No one said it better about Rogers than Rogers himself.
In an interview in August 2009 with ESPN’s Jemele Hill, whose journalism roots include Detroit, Rogers said, "I got a little greedy. The girls played a part in it.” Then, even more astutely, Charlie added, "I f----- up. Point blank, simple."
Ten years after Rogers entered the NFL, there’s another former Lions receiver battling demons.
Titus Young was a second-round draft choice of the Lions in 2011, out of that pass-happy program in Boise State. Like Rogers, Young exhibited some troubling behavior in college. And, like in Rogers’ case, the Lions chose to ignore it.
At Boise State, Young was suspended for most of his sophomore season.
Young was the 44th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. His off-field behavior scared some teams off. It didn’t scare off the Lions.
Last summer, Young punched teammate Louis Delmas in practice, which started a downward spiral with the team.
Young ran wrong routes on purpose in a game against Green Bay last season, it was charged. He was causing trouble for his coaches in practice and during games. The Lions finally benched him.
Young took to Twitter in January and got into spats with fans on social media. The Lions released him the day after the Super Bowl. The St. Louis Rams, another franchise not known for smart decisions, claimed Young. But even the Rams had second thoughts and released Young nine days later.
This month, Young has been arrested three times for alleged violations ranging from drunk driving to theft to resisting arrest. Last week, Young’s father said that his son has a severe mental disorder and needs help.
It’s not about football anymore for Titus Young. It’s about life and his ability to survive it. It should be pointed out that Young is the father of a nine-month old baby boy, Titus Jr.
Again, we smirk and shake our heads at Young’s personal life, as we did at Charlie Rogers’.
Rogers never got any help. Young’s father’s comment gives hope that Titus can get some help and support. Maybe there will be a personal posse that will gather and help Young battle his demons.
Charlie Rogers is 32, broke and has no future. The world that was once his oyster is now his living hell.
That’s nothing to smirk about.