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A DIFFERENT KIND OF PAIN

Dec. 12, 2011
Dec. 12, 2011

Table of Contents
Dec. 12, 2011

LEADING OFF
GOLF PLUS
  • How big was Tiger's victory at the Chevron? Can Luke Donald hang on to No. 1? Who's most likely to become the top American? How do the major venues rate, and who will win the four championships?

  • Great majors, a new No. 1, LPGA dominance, an old school fight for the money title and the rediscovery of a vintage track too tough to die made 2011 a terrific year in golf

  • The game will long remember Europe's leading light, a pioneering woman and a television innovator

Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR / SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1981
SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR, 1976
  • A couple of recent divorces have dusted up the Girl Next Door, but as always she will never sit back and accept defeat

SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1982
  • A man can gather plenty of insight on the road from boy wonder to senior statesman for the sport he loves

PRO FOOTBALL
  • The Patriots' defense, built from spare parts, castoffs and converted receivers, ranks dead last in the NFL, and yet New England is once again cruising to the playoffs. The real test is yet to come

SPECIAL REPORT
COLLEGE FOOTBALL
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
BASEBALL
  • In 136 major league seasons, there's never been a more dizzyingly dramatic day than Sept. 28, 2011. The Red Sox and the Braves may disagree, but for everyone else it's a date that will live in ecstasy

PRO HOCKEY
  • With the club slumping and captain Alex Ovechkin seemingly checked out, the Capitals dumped their coach. Now one of the NHL's superstars isn't just struggling to rediscover his game, but he's also trying to shed an ugly label

  • The NHL's coaching carousel began to go 'round in earnest last week, with three jobs turning over in a four-day stretch. Besides the departure of Bruce Boudreau and the arrival of Dale Hunter in Washington, D.C., here's the lowdown on what went wrong and what to expect from here on in

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Departments

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PAIN

Bobby Kemp, once a punishing safety, committed suicide at age 38. Was it football, or lifelong depression?

On the morning of Feb. 7, 1998, 38-year-old former Bengals safety Bobby Kemp returned from the gym to his home in North Hollywood, Calif. After his wife and two-year-old daughter went to feed ducks at a nearby park, Kemp showered, set his wristwatch, put on a pair of jeans and shot himself in the chest with a revolver that he kept in the bedroom closet. "We came home, and I tried to open the door, but the chain was on," says Inga Colbert, Kemp's second wife. "I knocked down the door and told our daughter to stay in the living room. I opened the door to the bedroom, and he was already dead."

This is an article from the Dec. 12, 2011 issue

Known as the Enforcer during his seven seasons with the Bengals (1981 to '86) and the Buccaneers ('87), the 6-foot, 189-pound Kemp played through pain—one season with a dislocated left shoulder that never fully healed—while inflicting hurt on opponents, often with his helmet. "He'd come to the sideline woozy a lot," recalls Bengals teammate Mike Martin. "I'd say, 'Man, you've got to stop leading with your head.' And he was like, 'My head is hard enough to knock these guys down, and I'm not big enough to overpower 'em.'"

Nearly 14 years after his death, there is no way to determine how those collisions might have affected Kemp's psychological state. To speculate that his death was a football tragedy may be too simple an explanation for a man most knew only as a voracious reader and a soft-spoken loner. (Some of his '86 Bengals teammates didn't know he had died until contacted by SI for this project.) Kemp left no note—only morbid promises, told to a select few, that suicide would be his final act. "He talked about it since we were kids," says Kemp's first wife, Christy, who met Bobby during their sophomore year at Taft Junior College in California and was married to him for 13 years, during which time Kemp battled alcohol and drug addiction. "That's the way it was always going to happen. He wanted it to be like any other day. He was true to his word."

Kemp, who became a paramedic after his NFL days, appears to have been gripped by depression from an early age. He confided to both of his wives and to Douglas Aberg, his best friend and ambulance partner, that when he was about nine years old he found a gun, put it in his mouth and contemplated pulling the trigger. "He had some moments of sheer sadness," says Aberg. "Bobby told me many times, 'I will not live to see the day when I'm 40 years old.'"

Football, in fact, may have been Kemp's saving grace. "It was the one thing he loved more than anything," Christy says. "I think it regulated him. When football was over, he was just never the same. With that hole in his life, it just slowly deteriorated."

In his second profession the Enforcer would sit and talk with patients at nursing homes or pull his ambulance over to help people struggling with wheelchairs. "Bobby was a gentle, humble soul. He treated everyone with dignity," Aberg says. "But the contrast of playing in a Super Bowl and wheeling people around on a gurney—I don't think Bobby thought his life was going to be like that."

In a life of extreme highs and lows, Kemp experienced no greater thrill than being surrounded by 81,270 fans as he stood on the field at the Silverdome during Super Bowl XVI. He told Aberg, "I just stopped in that moment and was full of gratitude." On the day he shot himself, there's no telling what was happening in Kemp's head.

PHOTOCOURTESY OF INGA COLBERT (MOTORCYCLE)A DARK ROAD Kemp, known as the Enforcer during his seven-year career, had frequently spoken of taking his own life—"since we were kids," says his first wife, Christy.PHOTOAP PHOTO/NFL PHOTOS (GAME ACTION)[See caption above]