Phillip Adams, the former NFL cornerback-turned-suspect in a South Carolina shooting that left five people dead, including a beloved doctor, shocked those who knew him with his actions.
York County authorities identified Adams as the man behind the gruesome rampage in Rock Hill on Wednesday evening but had yet to come up with a motive. Police said Adams turned the gun on himself, and authorities who were negotiating with him trying to get him out of a house where he was hole up found his body early Thursday.
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Those who knew Adams described him as “lost without football.” Adams was a star defensive back for South Carolina before getting drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round in 2010. He suffered a gruesome ankle injury his rookie season and would bounce around the league until 2015.
“He had an injury his rookie year,” Scott Casterline, Adams’ agent, told the Associated Press. “Some teams wrote him off and he had that stigma of a guy who was hurt. His ability was better than a guy who bounced around a lot. All that weighed on him heavily. He had (six) years, a great career, but he felt he had more. It was hard for him to walk away from the game, especially a guy as dedicated as he was.”
Casterline said Adams had a tendency to cut off the world when he was hurting.
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“We encouraged him to explore all of his disability options and he wouldn’t do it. He would isolate, but that’s who he was, so it wasn’t a big concern. I knew he was hurting and missing football, but he wouldn’t take health tips offered to him. He said he would but he wouldn’t. I felt he was lost without football, somewhat depressed, but he was really hard to follow because he would isolate,” he said.
Kevin Smith, a former Dallas Cowboys cornerback, trained Adams leading up to the 2010 draft. Both Smith and Casterline told the Associated Press that Adams had opened a smoothie shop before the coronavirus pandemic began and that he didn’t do drugs or drink but drove fast cars.
“I used to have to tell him you don’t have to do so much,” Smith said. “I would tell him it’s about preserving your body because he’d want to work out three times a day.
“This is just shocking. Recently, our only communication was through Instagram and he was real short. He didn’t say a whole lot. That was just him. He was such a good kid. I didn’t see mental issues outside of the fact that his pride was a double-edged sword. What drove him, all the hard work, also worked against him.”
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Along with the ankle injury, Adams suffered two concussions during his NFL career. Whether he had long-lasting effects from the injuries wasn’t clear. He would not have been eligible for testing as part of a broad settlement between the league and former players over such injuries, because he hadn’t retired by 2014. It’s unclear whether Adams took advantage of the NFL and NFL Players Association’s post-career programs for physical and mental care.
“This is so unlike him,” Casterline said. “He had to not be in his right mind, obviously. All of us who knew Phillip are shaking our heads. He struggled away from the game. I tried to get him to come to Texas. I was going to find him a job, but he wouldn’t leave South Carolina because he had a son. He was a good father. Seeing Phillip shoot two kids, it’s not him. I can’t fathom it. It’s devastating for the victims and the families.”
Allison Hope, a neighbor of the Adams’, said she couldn’t process what happened.
“‘I feel bad for him, because if it was mental or something going on in his life or whatever, you know, he needed help, and that’s the sad part,” she said.
Alonzo Adams, Phillip Adams’ father, told WCNC-TV he thought “football messed him up.”
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York County authorities had yet to find out a motive on Thursday. They said evidence at the scene of the shooting pointed to Adams being the culprit but didn’t get specific on what evidence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.