Ex-NFL player Lincoln Coleman of Dallas faces health issues

DALLAS — Lincoln Coleman is home now. He showed up at his mom’s house in Dallas, near Dolphin Road and Interstate 30, on Tuesday morning.

The Dallas Morning News reports his legs, covered only in the short pants he was wearing when he vanished Feb. 9, were swollen. His mother said that was because he had spent the last three days walking, at least when he wasn’t sleeping in his 2016 Ford Escape that was still parked Tuesday morning in a church lot only blocks away.

“He can’t tell you where he’s been walking,” 67-year-old Waynita Coleman said. “He’s just been walking. But he’s here.”

Waynita’s boy, now 48, has disappeared before — most recently last May. Then, as now, the long-ago Bryan Adams High School standout appeared on his mother’s door step in the middle of the night, only after he’d seen a television news story about his disappearance. He had been gone for eight days, much of it spent in a Dallas homeless shelter.

Lincoln Coleman’s story was once a feel-good tale — the hometown boy who had gone from playing in the Arena League to working for minimum wage in a Home Depot to playing for the Dallas Cowboys. But the highlight reel dims with each critical-missing bulletin in which Dallas police warn that Coleman “has diminished mental capacity and may be in need of medical assistance.”

It is no secret that Coleman was once an addict and alcoholic; he also claimed, long ago, to have shed those demons, telling The Dallas Morning News in November 2013 that “I am rocking and rolling” after getting sober at a Florida treatment center.

But his head, which Lincoln was taught to use as a battering ram in high school, is far from clear: Waynita says that her son, one of three, is bipolar, according to doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and was long ago diagnosed with dementia.

She is certain that his many concussions — eight, at least — are, in part, to blame for his current state: “He liked to hit with his head, because that’s what they taught him.” So, too, is friend and sometime agent Christopher Randolph, who met Coleman almost two decades ago and helped him, and other former players, secure appearances that helped them keep some change in otherwise empty pockets. He has watched Coleman’s decline — the mood swings, the inability to hold conversations.

Once, Randolph said, Coleman was a blast to hang out with — “the life of the party.”

And now?

“Some days he’s just …” A long pause. “Missing. Not literally, not like now. He’s just not there. You will have a conversation with him, and then he …” Another pause. “Sometimes, he looks blank. He has good days. And he has bad days.”

Feb. 9 was a bad day.

Waynita has had her own health problems of late, and Lincoln, who his mother says is unemployable, has served as her caretaker despite his own struggles. And she could tell that the recent stress of getting his mom to the doctor each day had, at last, become too much to bear. Usually, someone keeps an eye on Lincoln — these days, mostly, his fiancee Maria.

But on Feb. 9, for just a moment, he was left all alone.

“And he was gone in a flash,” his mother said. Because once a running back …

Coleman’s NFL stint didn’t last long: 18 games spread over the 1993 and ’94 seasons. And his stat line wasn’t overwhelming: Coleman ran for 312 yards and scored three touchdowns as Emmitt Smith’s backup. When the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in January 1994, Coleman had but a single carry and lost 3 yards.

But he left behind one indelible memory, carved at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving 1993, when he spelled an injured Smith, made his NFL bow and rushed for 41 yards on Dallas’ only touchdown drive during a losing tussle with Miami in the snow. The Dallas Morning News, for which Lincoln’s father worked as a pressman for 22 years, ran a story inside the sports section that read, “At last, Coleman leaves impression.”

Not long after, it faded: Head coach Barry Switzer cut Coleman in the summer of ’95 after he refused to drop weight. He was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons, then quickly cut. Coleman returned to the arenas, playing for teams in Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, Michigan. But in 2001, his dreams of playing in the pros were long gone, buried beneath cocaine, drowned in booze.

Now, his mother said, Lincoln often doesn’t even recognize former teammates.

Waynita said her son has spent time at The Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine, one of only four facilities across the country used by the NFL Players Association to care for former players. There, players are given wellness assessments — not just for the body, but for the mind.

“He wants to understand what is happening to him,” Randolph said. “He knows he needs to get better.”

When he was a little boy, Lincoln would run away, too. But he always landed at the same place — at his grandmother’s century-old home in Dallas on Holmes Street near Fair Park.

“He would get into bed and talk to her,” Waynita said.

Lincoln will soon go see the doctor. He will get his meds. He will sleep in a warm bed. For now, that is the best his mother can ask for.

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Dallas Morning News

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