Sheldon Richardson turns over a new leaf

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) during second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) during second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

As the New York Jets go over their latest loss to the New York Giants, defensive end Sheldon Richardson has turned over a new leaf when it comes to his career.

Although the odometer was clocked at 143 miles per hour in the brand-new 2014 Bentley, and the smell of marijuana permeated throughout the car, neither seemed to alter defensive end Sheldon Richardson‘s behavior. But when Richardson was slapped with suspensions by the NFL for multiple infractions, it finally registered. This is not just a sport; it’s a business, and it appears that Richardson came to that realization when he arrived at training camp this past July for the New York Jets.

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Last year, the NFL took action when they suspended Richardson for the first four games of the 2015 season after he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. And just two weeks later, Richardson once again displayed reckless behavior when he was arrested in St. Louis after a high-speed chase with the police. He later pleaded guilty to resisting arrest that day and received 100 hours of community service, in addition to being put on probation for two years.

Richardson’s offseason did not start training for the upcoming season; instead, it began in a hospital room, standing by his girlfriend’s bedside, who just gave birth to their first daughter. Now, Richardson has a new perspective; he realizes that he has a dual responsibility to be a team player on the field, and to be a role model for his daughter. Richardson is a man on a mission to redeem his reputation, and he brought that new attitude into training camp this summer.

This summer, the first individual who noticed Richardson cultivating better habits and transitioning into a more disciplined player was Pepper Johnson, the Jets’ defensive line coach. Who mentioned that Richardson was disrespectful to him last season. “What I appreciate from him is that he’s getting more confidence in me,” Johnson said, per Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News. “He’s asking me questions and he’s kind of referring to me now more than what he did last year and trying to get some things accomplished himself. And I just try to relate to him that I’m here to help.” And Richardson acknowledged this, saying he was “a little hard-headed” in the grand scheme of things.

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When the average football fan hears Richardson’s name, it is immediately associated with either his dominance on the field or his off-field mishaps.

But most are not aware of the depression he suffered last year, after one of his best friends was fatally shot.

On January 30th, 2015, Dorance Harvey was murdered in St. Louis, just minutes after spending a night with Richardson.

“He was with me. I dropped him off to his car and I went to his brother’s house. And 30 minutes later, we got a phone call saying he wasn’t there no more,” Richardson said, per Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday.

Richardson had difficulty coping with this loss, on top of the suspensions he received, that he began sessions with the team psychologist for two days a week. But Richardson fought through the sorrow and the pain and has been moving forward ever-since with a positive attitude.

There’s never been a question of Richardson’s performance and abilities on the field after the Jets’ selected him 13th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. He won the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as well as being nominated to the 2014 Pro Bowl team. He’s had 16.5 sacks in his three seasons and makes for debatably the best defensive duo in the league, alongside Muhammad Wilkerson

Fans already know the force they are getting on defense game-in and game-out. However, Richardson is trying to eliminate his poor off-field decisions, and that would finally make him a complete player on and off the field. 

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Although he will still face a one-game suspension opening day, once the Jets take the field on Thursday Night Football in Buffalo come Week 2, expect #91 to be the dominant force that he truly is.