The 21st century has been a collection of triumphs and failures for Chicago’s major sports franchises. The Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts 29–17 in Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007. Thus, the Monsters of the Midway haven’t captured a Vince Lombardi Trophy since embarrassing the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX on January 26, 1986. The Blackhawks procured Stanley Cup trophies during the 2009-2010, 2012-2013 and 2014-2105 seasons. The Bulls haven’t advanced to the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan “retired” in January 1999 and flew away from the Windy City. Lastly, on the diamond, the White Sox clinched a World Series championship in 2005 and the Cubs famously earned a title in November 2016. Tragically, three prominent Chicago athletes also prematurely died this millennium. With that noted, let’s recall the lives of Bulls center Bison Dele and Bears players Dave Duerson and Rashaan Salaam.
Bison Dele, born Brian Carson Williams in Fresno, California, signed with the Bulls in April 1997. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Dele proved to be a key contributor off the bench and he helped the Bulls secure its fifth crown over the Utah Jazz later that spring. Dele shocked, and perplexed, Detroit Pistons’ executives when he abruptly retired at the age of 30 in September 2000. Less than two years later, in July 2002, Dele and two other individuals were allegedly murdered by his brother, Miles Dabord, on a sailboat somewhere in the waters of the South Pacific. Dabord returned from sea and proceeded to use Dele’s information to purchase roughly $152,000 worth of gold.
“If Brian had to choose the way he was going to die, he would have loved the Shakespearean quality of this,” Dele’s longtime friend, Lee Ann Jarvis, told Sports Illustrated in an article published in September 2002.
Dabord committed suicide on September 27, 2002, at the Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, California.
Safety Dave Duerson played a critical role in the Bears’ mauling of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Duerson, who the Bears selected out of Notre Dame with the 64th choice in the 1983 NFL Draft, was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time second-team All-Pro. The formidable Irishman permanently shelved his cleats following the 1993 campaign. Shortly thereafter, Duerson’s behavior became increasingly erratic and he ultimately died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at the age of 50 in February 2011.
Prior to committing suicide, the 1987 NFL Man of the Year Award winner sent his family a text message requesting that neurologists examine his brain tissue. Duerson’s kin proceeded to send his brain to researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine. Approximately three months later, medical specialists at the private institution confirmed that Duerson suffered from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE, a rare condition linked to repetitive head trauma, can cause cognitive, physical and emotional complications.
“(Duerson) had a variety of symptoms that were entirely consistent with CTE in the literature and what our findings have been,” Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research for the BU Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, told the Chicago Tribune. “He complained of headaches. Most important, he had worsening short-term memory problems and a growing problem with impulse control. He had a short fuse, a growing temper and abusiveness.”
The Bears selected decorated University of Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam 21st overall in 1995. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Salaam earned the Heisman Trophy and every noteworthy college football award in 1994 for his performances that autumn. As a rookie, Salaam initially impressed onlookers and he ran the ball 296 times for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. Regrettably, the 1994 Sporting News Player of the Year couldn’t overcome injuries, fumbling issues and marijuana abuse as a Bear.
After getting released by Chicago, Salaam became a journeyman who gained work with the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, the Memphis Maniax of the XFL and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Sadly, like Dave Duerson, Salaam died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at the age of 42 on December 5, 2016.
“It was a very short, private (suicide) note,” Salaam’s brother, Jabali Alaji, told USA Today. “But it explained a lot … I’ll never reveal exactly what it said.”