Hakim Akbar reflects on his life, Part Two

In Part Two of Derek Johnson's conversation with former Washington safety Hakim Akbar, Akbar reflects on his time after leaving Montlake, dealing with life in the NFL and the responsibilities he had to his family at the time, and also about the accident that nearly cost Hakim his life and shaped his future as an adult outside the game of football.

Hakim Akbar: I was just trying to prove myself (in the NFL), that's all. You know, when you come from poverty like I did, and come from not having money, a lot of things come into play that you're not used to. Alcohol and other things. I remember getting $12,000 a week my rookie year. I went from a $100 scholarship check every month, to $12,000 a week and $48,000 a month. How can you prepare for that? It starts with having parents in your corner and helping you make decisions the right way. I honestly don't feel I had a lot of that guidance. For me, I was the man of the house and having to make all the decisions. I don't know how to prepare for that, I'm not sure you can.

Derek Johnson: So when your father was released from prison, he wasn't ready to be the man of the house?

Akbar: No, he wasn't. A lot of us thought he would be. When he got out, I had bought him a house, and I furnished it and put a car in the driveway. I wanted to make sure he was ready to take that leadership role. He didn't take it like I thought. He violated every trust you can have with a person. He violated all of them. Nothing will ever hurt you worse than your family. When family violates your trust, nothing in the world hurts you more. You trust them, and want to trust them. I bought him the house for us to live in. He moved his girlfriend in with her two kids. I was feeding all four of them. I was taking care of the whole household. He told me I owed it to society to feed people. He said, 'Hakim, you can at least feed them. Food ain't nothin'!' While I was in (NFL) camp I had to call home to argue with Dad about not driving my vehicle. He had his own vehicle. I would say, 'Why are you in my room?' I had the master bedroom. I had a lock put on it, but when I came home they were sleeping in my room. They had broken the lock and taken it over. I felt like I didn't have anything for myself. You wish that a father could steer you away from mistakes that he made. At the time it seemed like he wanted us to make those mistakes. You know what I mean?

Johnson: No, I don't. How so?

Akbar: He would see a friend of mine and say THAT BOY IS GONNA END UP IN JAIL! HE'S NO GOOD! He would say things that fathers aren't supposed to say. I have friends whose fathers give them encouragement and advice and love, even as grown men. But my Dad is out for himself in many ways. It baffles me because I get to see now the end result of how he is. He is doing well for himself, and he's still loving and giving, but he's mostly out for himself.

Johnson: Perhaps he's hoping that you and your friends will slide down and become failures, so he won't feel so bad about himself?

Akbar: Exactly. I still love my father. I still go by and see him. But I now live about an hour away from everybody. I need that distance to keep my sanity. There are still things that I don't understand because he created me. Why couldn't he do the things that fathers are supposed to do?

Johnson: Then there was your horrible accident, which occurred at the end of your rookie season.

Akbar: The last week we faced the Buffalo Bills. They fed us in the back of the stadium like they always did. We talked about what we were going to do. I had my friend Tamara in town, and I took her down to where the players were. She had a secret crush on my teammate Willie McGinest. I leave her with Willie and I head home. On the way I fell asleep. I woke up doing 85 MPH on the road. My Escalade is swerving back and forth across all four lanes. I grabbed the steering wheel to gain control, and all I remember is that the car started tipping. I didn't have my seatbelt on.

I woke up like five minutes later, and I'm in the woods and in mush. My whole left side is numb and in the middle of my groin is painful, as I had separated my hip. As soon as I realized where I was at, I see my car thirty feet away and the break lights are still on. I asked God, PLEASE DON'T LET ME DIE OUT HERE. I stood up on my right foot but my left side was so painful that I collapsed back onto the ground. I heard somebody yelling WHERE ARE YOU? I yelled OVER HERE! Those people had seen me ejected out of the back of my vehicle. They called the ambulance. I kept telling the medics that I was cold and for them to check for internal bleeding.

The next morning I woke up with a neck brace on and I couldn't move at all. I called my brother Mikal and told him. He started crying right there and then. I told him not to come because Tamara was there taking care of me. You know, had she been with me, she would probably be deceased, because the right side of my vehicle was smashed in.

The first week I slept away on morphine. I had leaves and brush in my wounds. I needed a walker and had to retrain myself to walk again. That was the most frustrating thing I have ever been through. You talk about pain. I lost 32 pounds in a month and had bedsores from just laying there. The doctors told me, 'Hakim, you'll never play football again but you're going to make it.' That was alright with me. I was just grateful to God to still be alive. As time went on, I realized that I was going to be okay. Coach Belichick came to see me. He said, 'I know you didn't play in any playoff games, but you did play ten games for us, and we're taking you to New Orleans with us to the Super Bowl. Let's go win a Super Bowl ring!' They gave me a room at the team hotel and treated me no differently than someone who was playing. I really appreciated Coach Belichick for doing that for me.

Johnson: He was doing for you what you guys did for Curtis.

Akbar: Exactly. Exactly. It's given to me now, all over again. One of those special moments.

Johnson: You were never quite the same player again, but you did manage to come back.

Akbar: I put down my crutches and started doing pushups and drinking my protein shakes. Coach Belichick came to me and said they were going to release me. I asked him why. He said that I was by far one of the best players they had seen, but it was my off-the-field activities that were getting in the way. So they let me go.

Johnson: Houston claimed you off waivers. They started you for a couple of games - but unbelievably they didn't know you had been in an accident.

Akbar: I used to cry after practices in my helmet. Nobody could see, but my hip hurt so bad. Coaches finally caught on that I had been in an accident and dropped me to third string on the depth chart. I was frustrated with my hip. The next summer, I pounded my hip. I did sprints and cone drills and I ran uphill. I worked out very hard. When I came back, the coaches were excited with how the hip looked. When we started practicing, every chance I got, I'm bopping somebody. BAM! Every time I'm hitting someone, I'm drawing the ball. BAM! The ball's coming out.

Suddenly, the defensive coordinator stops practice and shouts in front of the whole defense: 'HAKIM AKBAR! COME UP TO SECOND TEAM! YOU'VE EARNED THIS SPOT! THIS IS YOUR SPOT! YOU'VE EARNED IT!' That made me feel good. I was able to come back by the grace of God. I did my push-ups and exercises and drank my protein shakes, and was able to get three more years in the NFL. Because of that I got my pension. If I had listened to the doctors, I never would have played again. I wanted to be felt and not heard.

Johnson: How did your accident and Curtis' injury and death change you as a person?

Akbar: Maturity is a big part. A lot of us think we're mature, but you don't know for sure until the world gets to you. I've grown in a lot of ways since I entered Washington. I've learned to be wiser. I know the things to not indulge in anymore. For example, I don't drink anymore at all. Little things that used to bother me don't anymore. I'm trying to mature, and I really want to have a family and raise kids. I know I'm looked to as a role model here and I try to give time to others just like others gave to me. The kids look to me as a NFL man and I want them to believe they can make it in whatever they're trying to do in life. I never would have made it if others hadn't taken time to encourage me or tell me I could do something.

I'm contemplating either becoming a fireman or policeman in Rancho Cucamonga as soon as I'm done with my workman's comp in the NFL. I'm just glad that my decisions didn't cost me my life. I'm glad that I'm here and breathing. I like the strides that I'm making and I feel better about who I am. I ain't no saint or nothing, but I'm a loving and caring person, just like my friend Curtis who I miss all the time. I can't believe he's been dead six years. I've got him tattooed on my shoulder. I've got a big picture in my home of me and Curtis. We've got blood on our uniforms, and we're facemask-to-facemask and yelling at each other. You can see the veins popping out of my neck and his face. There's intensity. It's a real nice picture. It says IN HONOR OF CURTIS WILLIAMS, NEVER FORGOTTEN.

I cherish that man.

To check out part one of Johnson's story with Akbar, click on the link below.

Hakim Akbar reflects on his life, Part One

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