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Charles White Announces Retirement From Football : Ram Tailback Ends Stormy NFL Career

April 13, 1989|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Ram tailback Charles White, who lived a football life of knockdowns and comebacks, announced his retirement at age 31 Wednesday, ending a nine-year National Football League career of storm and storybook.

The 1979 Heisman Trophy winner from USC, who rebounded from a drug addiction and related arrest in August 1987 to win the NFL rushing title, said he is yielding to the pressure of a younger generation.

"After discussing it with Coach (John) Robinson, I believe the Rams are looking to younger players," White said in a prepared statement released through the team. "Although I would have a chance to compete, I feel it is time to step aside. At this time, I do not want to relocate with another team."

White started last season as the team's No. 1 tailback but lost his job to Greg Bell after returning in October from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. White, who has a long-running problem with cocaine, was suspended after testing positive for alcohol, a punishable offense under league rules given White's status as a previous offender.

White never recovered his position after the setback, starting only four games and finishing the season with 323 yards in 88 carries. The future, frankly, did not look much brighter. The 26-year-old Bell gained 1,212 yards and scored 18 touchdowns in White's place. White also figured to be pushed hard in training camp by tailback Gaston Green, a first-round pick who played sparingly last season.

White's wife Judi, the driving force in White's life and his many comebacks, said the decision to leave was mutual and was not forced by any recurring drug problem.

"He's doing great," she said. "Some people might think that maybe it's the drug thing again, but it's not . . . He's a new man. He should be be given a new name. He's got a new life, and hey, I'm all for it (retirement). We're not depressed, we're not sorry it's over. Football was good for us. But after nine or 10 years, it's time."

White's career seemed finished when he was released by the Cleveland Browns in 1985 after five disappointing seasons. He had been Cleveland's first-round draft choice in 1980 after winning the Heisman Trophy at USC, but he gained only 932 yards in five years.

It was in Cleveland that White's drug problems first surfaced. He entered a month-long rehabilitation program at Care-Unit of Orange in July 1982 and became part of then-coach Sam Rutigliano's Inner Circle, a drug awareness program set up for Cleveland players.

White was an unconditional free agent when Ram Coach John Robinson plucked him from the waiver wire in 1985. Robinson's ties with White ran deep. He had coached the star tailback at USC in the 1970s.

Robinson's trust was betrayed on Aug. 21, 1987 when White was found in a cocaine-induced state in a vacant lot near the team's training complex in Fullerton. White was brandishing a trash can lid at the time, and was arrested by Brea police on misdemeanor charges for being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Again, Robinson went to the wall for White, working out a deal with the NFL that returned White to the active roster under the condition he be drug-tested daily for the remainder of his career. The tests were later reduced to thrice weekly, and the misdemeanor charges against White were later dropped after he completed a drug diversion program.

White repaid Robinson and the Rams in 1987 with 1,374 yards and the NFL rushing championship. He became the starting tailback only after the trade of Eric Dickerson. White was named to the Pro Bowl for his efforts and was presented the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award.

"Charlie is the toughest man I've ever coached," Robinson said Wednesday. "He has had a truly great career. He's been one of my favorite players, and I'm proud to have shared part of his career with him. He played the game with every ounce of energy he had. I'm confident he will do well, and I wish him well. Charlie is a close friend and always will be."

Judi White said she does not know what the future holds for her husband, though Robinson suggested a career as an NFL scout might be a possibility. Although the Whites have five children, Judi says she is relieved to have her husband out of the spotlight.

"The money might not be the same," she said. "but there's a lot of pressure that comes with a standard of living. Let someone else take the ball. I'm tired. I've got five kids. We don't need the best car, or the best house.

"The very thing that makes you successful will kill you, if you don't keep it under control. The thing that made Charles a wonderful football player--being obsessive, his toughness--is also the thing that almost killed him. You can't turn it off and on. That's what makes you you ."

White finishes his NFL career having gained 3,075 yards rushing in 780 carries and having rushed for 23 touchdowns. He also caught 114 passes for 862 yards and one touchdown.


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