Bruce Irvin Reflects: “The Things I’ve Done”
The story begins this way:
I shouldn’t be here.
I should be locked up … or dead.
Yeah, probably dead.
It’s out there for you to read, and you should, and I’ll let you know where to find it before I’m done here.
Let me first tell who we’re talking about. You know him, or know of him, for he’s a former West Virginia University football player, maybe the best pass rusher the school ever had (although he’d probably get a pretty good argument from Canute Curtis and Gary Stills).
The name is Bruce Irvin, an NFL player now, a WVU graduate, a man who played in a Super Bowl … and leading the good life.
You wouldn’t believe how he got there, though.
He barely does.
His story is chilling, yet thrilling as he tells it in a first person article in “The Players’ Tribune”, a form for players to tell their own story in their own words.
And just what is his story?
“What I will tell you is that back when I was 17, I was hanging out in trap houses and selling drugs. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been in the driver’s seat of a car that got sprayed with bullets in a drive-by, and somehow I didn’t get hit. I’ve sat in a jail cell and watched a guy make a burrito out of bread, Cheetos and ramen noodles.”
Even then, he writes, he knew he’d be in the NFL. He didn’t know the path he would take, certainly not that his being thrown out of the house by a mother who loved him would lead to nights on a park bench, homeless but not hopeless.
It’s a tale we knew about when he was here at WVU, a tale that he hinted at but wasn’t ready to tell at the moment.
Even when it first came out, in 2016 a wonderful Bleacher Report article by Tyler Dunne after Irvin had signed with the Oakland Raiders following four years with the Seattle Seahawks, it was obvious he was reluctant to tell it.
“My history and s–t, I don’t want to talk about that,” he says. “I’m trying to get away from that s–t. I didn’t even know you were going to ask me that. If I would’ve known, I would’ve said I don’t want to talk.”
Certainly when he was here I tried to get it out of him, but it didn’t yet have a climax and it might have hurt more than helped to have it come out as raw and as stark as it is.
But I — and the other media who serve you here as sportswriters — were up against a system that works against getting down to truly great sports journalism, for interview time with players and coaches is always limited, always done in group settings, usually so impersonal that you can’t dig beyond the enamel to do root canal on the subject.
In WVU football Coach Dana Holgorsen has made it abundantly clear he will not so much as reveal injuries, let alone give you the freedom to dig deeply into a player’s feelings about his upbringing.
I don’t necessarily condemn much of this for it is necessary due to the growth of coverage between networks and broadcast outlets, websites, journalism students and print media.
All one need do is watch a Presidential press availability to understand where we have come, but it is a great loss for the public, for each and every athlete or coach has an interesting story to tell but to get to it, to ask a personal question and not have it followed with something like “Steak or potatoes, which do you like better?” [That really does happen] before you get an answer makes serious reporting impossible.
There’s also a matter of having to balance school and practice and down time with media obligations, which is quite a juggling act.
And while he was here and you marveled at his skills, heard talk about escaping a background that included drugs and jail and homelessness, you didn’t get the deep inside that would have endeared Bruce Irvin even more to you than he because through his play.
“I’ll never forget one time when me and a couple of guys I had been hanging out with broke into this house. It was a drug dealer’s house. We had our guns on us — just in case somebody was home — and we kicked the back door in, took whatever money we could find, ran out of the house and went to the gas station up the street. There was a police officer at the pump, and I remember he was kind of eyeing us. I was like, Dang, why he lookin’ at us like that? So I got in my car and drove off.
“The police car pulled out behind me.
“You know how when you got a cop behind you, even if you done nothing wrong, you try to change lanes or turn off to make sure they’re not following you?
“Well, I turned into a neighborhood, and the cop turned with me. Maybe two seconds later, a bunch of police cars came out of nowhere with their lights flashing. They surrounded me. All the cops all got out of their cars, took their guns out, pointed them at me and yelled, “Get out of the car!”
It’s all part of this story, as is the way he was saved and pointed in the right direction by Chad Allen, who does such things, getting him back into school after dropping out and pushing him back into football.
Believe me, it’s worth a read.