Terrence Kiel, 1980-2008 (Brian Bahr/Getty)
The Fourth of July has turned into a tragic day for Terrence Kiel. Shortly after he was drafted, he was shot three times on July 4, 2003, when he was the victim of an apparent carjacking. Exactly five years later, Kiel, 27, was killed in one-vehicle accident. The Chargers should take care to honor the fallen player in the upcoming season.
Terrence Kiel died on the Fourth of July when he crashed his car into a wall after apparently driving the wrong way on a road, according to a report by the Associated Press. The report also claims friends at the party asked Kiel not to drive home, as he was seemingly intoxicated.
The tragic headline is the latest of many involving Kiel. It started with a suspicious carjacking during his rookie season. Given what has transpired since, it’s fair to question whether Kiel was actually an innocent victim or if he was involved in an illegal transaction gone awry.
On Sept. 27, 2006, Kiel was arrested for shipping prescription cough syrup to Texas. The cough syrup is used to create an illegal street drink known as “lean.” Kiel pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor drug charges as a result, although the felony charges were later dropped after he completed community service.
Kiel’s off-the-field reputation took another hit in January 2007 when he was arrested for public urination. Although that charge was eventually dropped, Kiel was released from the team two months later.
Why should the Chargers go out of their way to honor this individual? Because for four years, Kiel gave the Chargers everything he had on the gridiron.
Kiel moved into the starting lineup midway through his rookie season and remained there throughout his four-year stint in San Diego. He averaged 4.7 tackles per game and was second on the team in tackles in 2004, when he also chipped in two picks, a sack and two pass breakups.
Kiel often received criticism for his sub-par numbers in terms of interceptions and sacks. However, one former Chargers assistant coach believes that was not a result of Kiel’s poor play.
“We didn’t send him on a lot of blitzes or give him a lot of opportunities in coverage. Where were those numbers going to come from?” the coach said.
Terrence Kiel was not a bad person. He got caught up in a football culture where big spending and big partying often seem mandatory. Kiel, who made $500,000 in his final season with the Chargers, failed to balance his financial obligations to his family with his obligations to the culture in which he was immersed.
That is what drove him to ship prescription cough syrup to Texas, as he sought to supplement his income while he earned significantly less money than most starting safeties in the NFL. And that is why the Chargers should be sympathetic to his circumstances and show him the respect he deserves.
Look at the comparison to Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who died while serving his country overseas. Both Tillman and Kiel played four years for their respective teams. Tillman racked up more tackles, 390-276, while Kiel held the advantage in interceptions, 4-3, and pass breakups, 17-16.
The Cardinals retired Tillman’s jersey number on Sept. 19, 2004, to pay tribute to their fallen player. The Chargers need not go that far, given the circumstances, but San Diego's players should wear helmet decals with No. 48 on them this season.
Because even though Tillman died the nobler death, both players lost their lives fighting a war they could never win.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.