Footballer Faces Bipolar Disorder in Battle Back to Field
> 6/12/2006 8:35:07 AM

At the age of 34, Alonzo Spellman is getting one final chance to play the game that he loves. In 1992 Spellman entered the NFL as the first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. In 1998, at the age of 27, a confrontation with Chicago area police led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

ESPN's Greg Garber wrote a feature on Spellman on Friday, detailing his long battle back to the football field. The one time New Jersey High School Player of the Year and Ohio State star spent the 2005/2006 season with the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League. In many ways, he's still a long way from the NFL, but Spellman has also come a long way since spending 18 months in a federal prison.

After his initial diagnosis Spellman refused to take his medication, instead relying on alcohol and illegal drugs. Because of his natural athletic talent teams kept him around. He was able to stay clean and take his medication long enough to record 10 sacks in two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He was signed by the Detroit Lions in 2001, but they cut him after only five games.

Out on his own, and unsure if he would ever play again, Spellman began to act out and lapse in his medication regimen. Finally, on a 2002 flight to Philadelphia, everything boiled over and in a manic episode Spellman threatened the flight crew and disrupted the travel of other passengers. Police were waiting when he landed, and not long after he found himself in a court room pleading guilty to "interference with a flight crew and two counts of simple assault on an aircraft."

While in prison, Spellman had no choice but to take his medicine. As he told Garber, "Handcuffs, shackles, an orange suit, dark room, that you can't control the light--yeah, that'll pretty much put it in perspective for you." That perspective has allowed Spellman to make it back onto a football field. As part of his probation, he sees a psychiatrist twice a week and must maintain his medication schedule. At the age of 34, his chances of ever playing in the National Football League are slim. But he has already had one productive season in Las Vegas, and things are looking promising for a 2007 return.

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