Last year, the Green Bay Packers selected offensive lineman Cole Madison in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The team expected Madison to compete for a position on their offensive line, as a starting guard, backup tackle, or both. However, when training camp arrived, Madison did not, and the team’s only explanation was that he was dealing with a “personal matter.”
On Monday, Michael Cohen of The Athletic provided the first report of the specifics of Madison’s absence, a situation that has been rife with speculation on the part of Packers fans and media alike. In this case, much of the speculation is accurate; Cohen’s report indicates that Madison stepped away from football as a result of the suicide of one of his close friends at Washington State University, quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
Hilinski, who was posthumously diagnosed with CTE, took his own life in mid-January, following the Cougars’ bowl game. By that time, Madison was already deep into training for the NFL Draft scouting process, which explains his timeline for the rest of the year.
Think about the hectic schedule that Madison went through during the first half of 2018. Immediately after his team’s bowl game, he leaves to start preparing for the Scouting Combine. He gets a break from that for a week to spend in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, but even with that he’s stuck in a two-month sprint to get ready for Indy at the end of February.
It’s entirely likely that after Hilinski’s suicide on January 16th, Madison simply could not process it properly, because a brief break to attend a memorial service can provide only a small amount of respite.
Following the Combine, March is full of preparations for Pro Day, followed by official visits to NFL teams. Then there’s the Draft itself in April, after which Madison is thrown immediately into rookie minicamp, OTAs, and mandatory minicamp after that. The first time he would actually get to take a bit of a breather would be the six-week break between minicamp and the start of training camp.
Try to put yourself in Madison’s shoes at that time. You’ve been moving nonstop since your season ended, with virtually no time to properly react or process your friend’s death. It’s entirely reasonable for a person to re-evaluate his decisions once there is an opportunity to take a break from the craziness of that several-month span.
Indeed, that’s what it looks like Madison did. After the Packers drafted him, he participated in all of the offseason workouts through minicamp, but it seems that the break before training camp was his chance to finally process what happened. To make matters even more complicated, Cohen notes, it was during that break that Hilinski’s CTE diagnosis was released.
There may be multiple factors in play for Madison. One is simply emotional distress, an explanation that has commonly been speculated online. There is also the possibility that seeing the CTE diagnoses associated with his friend made him entirely re-evaluate his attitude toward football. NFL fans have seen players retire early from the game in recent years amid concerns about head injuries — former Wisconsin Badgers and 49ers linebacker Chris Borland is one of the most prominent examples. If that is playing a part for Madison, that would be understandable as well.
The Packers, for their part, are handling this as professionally as possible. In regards to such a deeply private matter, they have chosen not to reveal any information, seemingly preferring to allow Madison himself to address the situation if and when he is ready. It’s simply the right thing to do, particularly if Madison has expressed any desire to keep his thoughts and feelings private.
In short, we now know with certainty what event spurred Madison to step away from football last summer, even if we still do not yet know the specific reasons he has done so. The Packers appear to be respecting his wishes by not giving any details, and even if he never ends up publicly discussing why he stepped away from the sport, let’s all hope that he — along with everyone else affected by this tragedy — gets whatever help he may need to heal.