Freddie Mitchell played at UCLA and was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is best remembered as being on the receiving end of Donovan McNabb’s fourth-and-26 pass against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC playoff game.
Mitchell was a Bruin for a season with FOX’s Brendon Ayanbadejo. The former UCLA teammates caught up recently by telephone after Mitchell learned he was sentenced to 37 months in prison as the result of a tax defrauding case despite an attempt to use diminished capacity due to concussions in hopes of a lesser sentence or probation
Mitchell decided to take a plea deal rather than going to trial – a choice he is not happy with now. Ayanbadejo discusses how Mitchell wound up in this predicament and what is next.
When did you suffer your first concussion? Was it in college or with the Eagles?
A: I got my first concussion in high school. Florida football is a pretty dominant state when it comes to football. I got a lot of concussions at UCLA, probably about four to five. I had a lot of concussions as a professional. What a lot of people don’t realize is you don’t want to report your concussions because each concussion you report can affect the second contract you are striving for; you don’t want to be labeled as damaged goods.
I have symptoms like migraine headaches, short-term memory loss, etc. It’s an ego thing. You don’t want to brand yourself as hurt. It’s hard now that this is happening and it’s recognized … just sucks that it takes something negative to happen for something positive to come of it.
How many concussions do you think you had? If the coaches recognized it, do you think it was treated properly?
A: I’ve had eight serious concussions, many of which were recognizable to the coaches.
They have cures for different cancers, better now than they did in 1980. The skill of them treating my concussions back then was lock me up in a dark room and let me sleep for an hour until the migraine passed. That was my treatment.
It’s funny, I played in the Veterans Stadium with the Philadelphia Eagles. You want to know how many times I hit my head on that surface? I have had AC sprains on that surface. I have pulled hamstrings on that surface. That surface is what introduced me to Toradol shots.
How about medical documentation?
A: After taking the tests, I have a medical document stating that I, Freddie Mitchell, have CTE. This makes me extremely gullible and naïve to a lot of things that are happening.
Are you undergoing treatment for CTE?
A: The thing is you can’t undergo any medical treatment in jail. The NFL just released the infamous 200 million dollars to help players out … I call BS on that. What am I going to do, is there going to be a special release program out of jail for people with CTE? Will I check myself out of jail early and then check myself back in?
What about your current legal situation?
A: Here’s the problem with what happened to me: I am a 35-year-old African-American male who has never been in trouble with the law on criminal charges. I’ve been scammed more than three times. I am a victim of CTE because CTE makes me gullible, naïve, very emotional, everything.
Football was my career; it was how I made a living. After it was over, I was looking for something to stay in the game. Developing a company to help athletes was my way of staying in the game.
So now you have people trying to say the brain injury made me defraud the government of this elaborate scheme of millions of dollars. This is not true. The truth of the fact is this brain injury allowed me to be victimized by being lured into a failed attempt by an IRS agent.
Describe the setting.
A: I was going to meet a friend of mine named Tony Roberts. I was going to meet him at a hotel in Orlando, Fl. These people happened to be from Philadelphia and were backing a lot of his independent movies. He’s like, "Freddie I got people from Philadelphia here. They love you. Everybody knows about Fred-Ex. They just wanted to meet you." I thought I would meet them and go sign autographs. As I was going to do a pilot and some TV stuff with Tony.
So, I was talking to them (Jamie Russ-Walls and Richard Walls) and whatever else, that’s when they began luring me in. That’s when she flashes her badge, "and introduced herself as an IRS agent and aked if I had any problems with my taxes. She said, “Just let me know, I can go ahead and do it.” The worst thing about it is she got five years’ probation for trying to defraud the government. She got five years’ probation! An IRS (agent) got five years’ probation.
I got out of court. You know how much they gave me? Three years in prison. … I mean, first of all, who is culpable, who is culpable of doing this elaborate scheme, an IRS agent or an NFL player?
Who were some of the victims in this case?
A: There was one named (former NBA player) Andrew Gooden, which was sad because I lost a friendship with him. And he was the one who turned them in. And it was just a bad situation. When he came to me and said, “Freddie, what’s going on?" I couldn’t tell him anything because I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know what she had done. I couldn’t get anything out of them. So, that’s how I got messed up.
Now, I am learning, my criminal knowledge is “Law & Order,” that’s it. That is the only thing I know. Now that I am educating myself. There is a point system that you get assigned according to the severity of your offense. If you have something wrong with you or something has been done to you in the past, they credit that to you so that you can get out early. If you are a guy like me, there is no credit; you will do the full time. They credited her because she said she was abused as a child. She said her husband abused her. They credited her for that. I was like what does that have to do with you defrauding America and the IRS?
Has there been any support from the Eagles, NFLPA, anyone else?
A: The only reason why I am guilty is because I took the plea deal. I got scammed out of so much money I could not afford to fight the case. So, I go to the NFLPA and said to them that I have money in annuities now, this is a hardship for me, I am about to be a convicted felon and about to go to jail, can I take my annuity and can you help me with this? Guess what they said,? No! They will not give me my money so I can get the proper defense. You have to be 35 and five years out of the league. I am seven years out of the league and 34 so they wouldn’t give it to me.
(Statement from NFLPA: "This is the first we have heard of his request for early payment of benefits under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. There is no "early payment" provision of these benefits for "hardship" under the CBA. Therefore, it is not within the power of the NFLPA or the NFL to grant him benefits before the required eligibility period in connection with his current legal situation.")
Do you have to do the three years?
A: I’m definitely going to try to appeal. It’s unfortunate because they lock you in when you take the plea deal and they make sure you sign away your life. Once again, you don’t know what you are signing, I didn’t even know what a plea deal was. i was misled by my attorney to sign the plea deal. I didn’t even know what was going on. It is a whole different ballgame. I have been thrown a different defense in life you now I just have to figure out how to defeat this defense and know what my options are.
The head of the department of justice is Attorney General Eric Holder. I would love to talk to him about my wrongful prosecution. Judge Jed Rakoof, Judge Nancy Gertner, Judge John Gleeseon are some of the numerous judges who speak about the guidelines and how they’re unfair to non-criminals that have been trapped in a bad situation such as myself. I just wish someone would listen.
Do you have anything you want to say to the public, make a statement?
A: I am not claiming that this brain injury, CTE, made me defraud the government from an elaborate, million dollar scheme. CTE, this brain injury that I have, has allowed me to be victimized. I can’t say I am sorry for committing a crime that I didn’t even know I committed.
Every player has been scammed. Everybody has made a bad investment but I am getting punished for being scammed by an IRS agent. That’s the situation. Fans, just keep me in your prayers. I’m 34 years old without a criminal background; I haven’t done anything. Growing up with many temptations, I can proudly say I didn’t choose that route.
I’m not that guy.
Freddie Mitchell is scheduled to turn himself into authorities Dec. 6 to begin his prison sentence. He plans to appeal.