Rod Jones, a member of the 1984 Orange Bowl team who held the Washington career record for catches by a tight end, and more recently was the Huskies’ academic coordinator, died Saturday at 54 by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
His daughter, Jamie, told the Seattle Times that her father had recently been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. His family believes he had symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He also had a history of alcohol abuse. The family began making arrangements with the staff at Boston University’s CTE Center to donate Jones’ brain for research.
“He’s been dealing with depression for years,” said daughter Jamie. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but he started to notice some memory loss. He just couldn’t remember things.”
She said her father took his life with a single gunshot to the head Friday, and taken to Harborview Medical Center. He was surrounded by family members and former UW teammates when doctors declared him dead Saturday. Jones is survived by his wife, Carla, daughter, Jamie, and son, Rod Jr.
Jones, a native of Richmond, CA., who spent two pro seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and played four games with the 1989 Seahawks, completed his degree in 2000 in ethnic studies and became part of the UW staff assigned to helping current and former players from the football and men’s soccer teams get their degrees.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic passing of Rod Jones,” director of athletics Jennifer Cohen said in a media release. “Rod has been an integral part of the Husky family dating back to his playing days at the UW and now through his service of our student-athletes as a member of our academic support staff. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Rod’s family as they mourn this devastating loss.”
Jones was part of the Don James-coached team that went 11-1 — he caught 11 passes for 61 yards in his sophomore season — and finished second in the national polls after upsetting the Oklahoma Sooners 28-17 in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The 1984 team was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 2016.
Jones, a co-captain, was the second-leading receiver (34 catches, 328 yards) on the 1986 8-3-1 team that went to the Sun Bowl.
In a 2010 Seattle Times story, Jones talked about the dashed dreams he had about pro football, and why he turned to academic counseling to help keep young players from falling into the same trap.
“You have all this freedom, nobody watching over you, you are promised success,” Jones said. “The coaches tell you are a great player. There are articles and interviews. Everything is pointed toward a huge contract. You are talking thousands, millions of dollars on the line. And that can be rough for a guy who is 18, 19 years old not to focus on that and people telling you how great you are.
“When you miss out on the million-dollar contract and the endorsements and there is no more football, you kind of go into a funk. I was almost in a depression for like five or six years of, what do I do now?”
Tipped by former Huskies quarterback great Warren Moon about the UW’s post-eligibility program, Jones, who played only two years of high school ball before coming to Washington in 1983, returned to school to finish his final four quarters.
“It’s overwhelming the help you get now,” Jones said of the UW’s academic services.”We didn’t have this back then.”
“The University of Washington football family lost one of its own Saturday,” said coach Chris Petersen. “Rod was a committed Husky and we are deeply saddened by his tragic passing. He will be missed sorely by our student-athletes, our coaches and staff, and the impact he left on our program will never be forgotten.”
A service is planned for Saturday at the Don James Center at Husky Stadium.
The inevitable subtext here is that Rod Jones was one of far too many players who reached the end of their football careers with the economic disappointment of unrealized NFL aspirations, an incomplete academic experience due to an unwavering career focus on football, and brain damage suffered from absorbing too many blows to the head. While the new emphasis on protecting players has no doubt played havoc with the flow of the game, Jones’s history reminds us that there can be no serious doubt that this was the path that needed to be taken.
The other bright note is the efforts that UW and other programs now make to help people like Jones to put together some sort of post-football life, including not only finishing up incomplete academic degrees but in Jones’s case providing an athletic department job. Big-time university football programs make lots of money and garner invaluable national prestige off the efforts of their young star athletes, who succeed in part because the motivational package includes selling them the myth that they are invincible. It is thus only fair that the universities help some of them get back on their feet after their meteoric athletic careers predictably flame out.
Well said, woofer. All of us in the sports landscape, media included, have helped create a mythology that if you just try hard enough, sports will reward you financially. Many football players come from desperate situations where other options are few. It’s been this way for a hundred years.
At least there seems to be some conscience developing at some schools that they should try to help players after the exploitation period is over.
Call me whatever you like and I always get attacked for this, but college football “student athlete” (joke) players need to unionize and need to get paid for their jobs as professional athletes masquerading as amateurs.
By the time you figure practice during the season, spring ball, travel, prohibitions on working elsewhere while “student athletes” (joke), required hours in the weight room, bowl games, etc., their grant-in-aid status often pays little more than minimum wage. They need to make maybe $25k or $30k a year plus their existing compensation..
They all have dreams of playing on Sundays and this % happens in the low single digits. For this reason, they need to get paid to risk their short and long term well-being for our entertainment.
When coaches make several million, assistants and coordinators make a million, the inept commissioner of the conference makes about $5 million, the staff at Pac-12 HQ (rent = $6 million/year alone) is bloated with assistants and associates and chart boys and marketing consultants–all making $$, I say there is cash available for the players.
If you doubt this, look up what ESPN paid recently for the semifinals and the final game, including a few other bowl games. (Hint: you’re going to have to use a “b” instead of an “m” describing the dollar amount.)
I personally don’t think it’s right to pay them minimum wage to get maimed like this.
“…college football “student athlete” (joke) players need to unionize and
need to get paid for their jobs as professional athletes masquerading as
amateurs….They all have dreams of playing on Sundays and this % happens in the low single digits.”
The problem is that these two statements cut in opposite directions. If less than 5% of college players ever play in the NFL, that means that more than 95% are not in reality “professional athletes masquerading as
amateurs.” The long-term value that the university experience offers this 95+ percent is the opportunity for a good education, not a shot at celebrity stardom and fabulous wealth.
It’s likely never to become a perfect situation, but many more people can be helped by keeping the 95% majority on the educational track than by building a new system around curbing the undeniable abuses caused by catering to the superstar few.
As I’ve written for 30 years, big time football and men’s basketball need to become professional entertainment corporations affiliated with schools, from which they rent brands, colors, history and alumni emails. Pay the players and coaches what the market will bear.
Most problems solved. The kids get a paid-for education if they choose to do so.
RIP Rod Jones
What a shame. It sure sounded like he had it figured out. and yes, agree with woofer, below: it’s nice to know that the UW has stepped up its programs. “It’s overwhelming the help you get now.” great quote. very hopeful.
Unfortunately, there’s still many players who haven’t been helped. Some don’t want it, some don’t know, and some are ignored by their schools.
Unfortunately many players from that Husky team have gone thru a multitude of problems. I’m sure this is not much different from many other programs, but there is a lot of sad coincidence, Tim Meamber’s struggles, and other Linebackers,Fred Small (Tragic accident) Reggie Rogers passing, Ron Holmes, and a number of other lesser known players drug issues and others passing away young. I remember being at UW and as a walk on (not a good one) there was some stuff going on back then and a lot of guys just had trouble adjusting after college. Sometimes I think the best thing is to remove guys completely away from football and make them stay away from it when they are done and show them that football is very short term and also a very miniscule part of life even though it seems like it is everything at the time. They should really know the ramifications before choosing it as well. I love the game of football from a fan’s perspective but it is much more brutal than ever. And many times the toll shows up many years later. It is exciting, fun, and the fan experience of tailgating and the spirit and excitement especially college is second to none. The game …. Nothing like it. But, there is a lot of ugliness to it. It is brutal and hurts a lot of people especially physically and mentally when they are Older. Not sure it is worth it. Kickers and Punters….. well we are not really football players anyway. Sorry for Rod and his family … Wishing the best to his daughter especially So sad.