Defensive Back, 2006, 2008-2009
Amari Speivey has experienced plenty of it, physically and mentally.
Bouts with deep depression brought on by a convergence of events dragged down the former Iowa and NFL defensive back. They forced him out of a professional football career.
Spievey lost his cousin and confidant, Chauncey Hardy, who was killed in a Romanian bar during 2011. The next season, he suffered multiple concussions as a member of the Detroit Lions. The darkness overwhelmed him.
Luckily for him and his loved ones, life has gotten back on track. He’s mentoring kids in his home state of Connecticut. He’s traveled a difficult journey to sanity.
AN UNFORTUNATE SERIES OF EVENTS
Spievey and Hardy, born a month apart, grew up together. It’s the only period of time that separated cousins who lived like brothers. They shared everything, from candy as kids to life happenings as they got older. They called each other first.
They attended Middletown (CT) Xavier High. Spievey stood out in football while Hardy excelled in basketball. Hardy went on to play at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. before signing on with a top-tier professional team in Romania.
Hardy found early success overseas. After a big victory, he celebrated at a local bar. Then, tragedy struck.
An altercation with a group of fellow patrons led to him being beaten to death. A man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to jail. It didn’t ease the pain for Spievey.
“I never experienced that before. He was one of my best friends. We had planned to do many things together for our community. We had goals. When he died, a part of me died with him,” he said.
Spievey carried the sadness with him throughout the remainder of the ’11 season. He lugged it into the next fall. It escalated in October of that year.
Playing for the Detroit Lions against the Chicago Bears on Monday night football, Spievey suffered his second concussion in a short time. After the game, he’d forgotten that Hardy had been murdered. He did, however, know something happened to his cousin.
He called his mother and then his girlfriend. Neither could break the news to him again, fearing for his mental health. He then reached a friend, who told him Hardy had been killed.
“I went through it all over again. I lost my mind. It was a horrible day. On top of that, I had the headaches and the depression from the concussions. It was a tough time for me,” Spievey said.
It was too much for Spievey to handle. Everything crashed down around him. He and his girlfriend, Lisa Marie Santos, were arrested following a domestic dispute in March of 2013. The Lions released him five months later.
He worked out for the Bears that September. Then, he walked away from the sport he grew up loving.
“I felt like the most important thing for me to do was be with my family. It wasn’t about making money. It wasn’t about entertaining people on the football field,” he said.
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Spievey was a mental mess. Around that time, the football world started coming to grips with the damage done by concussions, awareness raised when Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide. His family approved research on his brain and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) entered the sport’s vocabulary. Lawsuits followed.
The reality hit home for Iowa when former all-American safety Tyler Sash died from a overdose of pain medication in September of 2015. The autopsy showed his brain suffered from advanced CTE.
The death of his former teammate hit Spievey hard. It also helped explain to others what he’d gone through.
“My personality changed. I was irritated all the time, angry. People didn’t understand why. The movie, Concussion, when that came out, people started to reach out and say they understood. When Sash died, people realized how serious it was. It’s serious,” he said.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Spievey was languishing with his depression. It caused unrest in his relationship with Santos and in most aspects of his life. He sat around his house, captive to his thoughts, many of which carried him back to Hardy’s death.
“Every time I thought about it, it was almost like peeling a scab off,” he said.
Nothing else occupied his time. The cycle was vicious.
“I wasn’t working. I wasn’t doing anything. That destroyed me because all you have are your thoughts. It keeps you in a bad place. The worst thing to do when you’re depressed is just stay home because it’s going to keep you in a prison in your mind and drive you crazy,” he said.
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He finally pulled himself out of the rut. He started playing recreational basketball and attending social gatherings. He credited faith, family and friends for helping him. His 7-year-old daughter, Alaia Spievey, stood at the forefront of that.
“It took a while to laugh, to smile. She was born a year before (Hardy) died. She gave me a reason to live, to smile, to look forward to the next day,” he said.
Depression isn’t cured, it’s controlled. You manage. Some days are better than others. Spievey finally is enjoying more good than bad. That’s a victory.
The healing is helped by his work in the community. He’s training young football players.
His first client, Andre Brackett, came to him two summers ago. He’d never played cornerback and was heading into his post-graduate season at Windsor (CT) Loomis Chaffee. Brackett went onto Bryant University, where this season he was named the Northeast Conference defensive rookie of the year.
Before Brackett came along, Spievey was afraid to help people. He was unsure if he could impact them and worried about letting them down.
“I helped him out and he helped me out as well,” Spievey said.
Spievey is hoping to grow his training business. He may team up with Terrance Turner, a former Indiana receiver whom Speivey played against while at Iowa.
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The Hawkeye memories run deep for him. He still keeps in touch with former teammates Mike Daniels, now with the Green Bay Packers, and Jeremiha Hunter.
Those guys played key roles in the resurgence of Iowa football at the end of last decade. Following a rare absence from the post-season in ’07, the Hawkeyes surged to an Outback Bowl victory in ’08 and an Orange Bowl triumph the next year.
Spievey was a star. He earned second-team all-Big Ten honors as a sophomore in ’08 before capturing first-team laurels the next season. He praised the late Norm Parker, the defensive coordinator, and position coach, Phil Parker, for raising him to great heights.
“Norm Parker was a genius. I love that guy. He gave me a huge shoutout, I think it was my sophomore year when he said I was the best corner that he’s ever had. That was a great honor,” Spievey said.
The path to all-conference came with bumps. Spievey red shirted as a true freshman at Iowa in ’06 before spending a year at Iowa Central Community College to fix his academics. He returned to Iowa in ’08 after doing so.
Iowa Central inducted Spievey into its hall of fame last summer.
“If it wasn’t for Iowa Central, I wouldn’t have been in the NFL. I owe Iowa Central a lot. Coach (Kevin) Twait was a tough coach, all about academics and working hard. If it wasn’t for them, who knows what have happened to me,” he said.
Spievey left Iowa with a year of eligibility remaining. The Lions chose him in the third round of the ’10 NFL Draft, the 66th player selected.
“I kind of regret leaving early because we could have done big things again and who knows, I could have been a first-rounder or something. But with my circumstances, I had to get out of there. I wish I would have stayed,” he said.
He’s also uncomfortable with how he left the NFL. He never quit anything before and it weighs on him to this day. He started 26 games in his three-year career, picking off five passes as a safety.
Spievey watches NFL games on TV now. He sees guys he competed against still in the league. He believes he still could be playing.
“That’s who I am. That’s what I’ll always be and that’s what I love. I’m still athletic. I’m still fast. My body is fine. I feel like I could do it. I should be out there,” he said.
He also understands the reason he’s not is a good one. Spievey, with the help of faith, family and friends, saved his life by stepping away and getting better. There’s more ground to cover.
“I was cleared to play back then but the depression and my mental state wasn’t there. You can’t play in the NFL if you’re not all there. If you’re not fully focused, you can’t survive,” he said.
“It took me years to adjust. (Hardy) died in 2011. I couldn’t really be normal for a good three or four years. I haven’t cried in awhile but it doesn’t feel real still. I accepted it but it still doesn’t feel real.”