Cause of death of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam confirmed as suicide

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BOULDER, Colo. — University of Colorado football legend and 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam was found dead in a park Boulder park on Dec. 5,  the Boulder County Coroner’s Office said.

Now, we are learning that Salaam died from a gunshot wound to the head. Officials with the Boulder County Coroner’s Office confirmed the news Thursday, saying a gun was found near the football star’s body.

Salaam was found dead at Eben G. Fine Park. He was 42.

CU associate athletic director Dave Plati told The Associated Press that Salaam never showed signs of trouble.

“When you were around him he was just the same old Rashaan. You know, effervescent, jolly, go-lucky, smiling all the time, doing things for other people,” Plati said. “I was as close to him as anybody and loved the guy … and wish I could have noticed or done something for him or wished that he would have called me.”

As a junior in 1994, Salaam rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns, leading the Buffaloes to an 11-1 record that included a 41-24 over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 3 ranking in the final polls.

“This is a sad day for the entire university community as we mourn Rashaan’s death,” CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano said when he first learned of the football great’s death. “Rashaan will be remembered as one of the greatest football players to ever wear a Buffs uniform, and his 1994 Heisman Trophy brought great prestige and honor to the university. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Added athletic director Rick George: “The Buff family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff. We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”

After leaving CU, Salaam was the Chicago Bears’ first-round draft pick in 1995 and became the youngest player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards.

He was named NFC Rookie of the Year in 1995 after rushing for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Bears.

By 1999, Salaam was struggling with injuries and fumbles. He told ESPN that marijuana use contributed to his problems in Chicago.

Salaam signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders in 1999, but ended up getting cut. After that, he went to Cleveland but only played two games for the Browns.

In 2001, Salaam joined the short-lived XFL and played for the Memphis Maniax.

Salaam returned to the NFL and played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2003, but he was released before the season started.

“You talk about a young man who was smart, handsome, talented. He was very, very gifted. He was humble. He was a team guy,” said Bill McCartney, who coached Salaam from 1992 to 1994.

“His personality was infectious. He just had a warmth about him, a genuineness about him that was really contagious. On the surface, he had everything. We thought he was a cut above, and he turned out to be.”

Added Plati to the AP: “He was the only Heisman Trophy winner in the state of Colorado. That could have been a burden in later years because he kind of felt he didn’t have the great professional career that should have followed that. But that doesn’t matter, it’s what you did to win the Heisman and he’s an icon in college football.”