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‘Football City, USA’ killings raise sport safety concerns

ROCK HILL, S.C. (A.P.) – Any visitor to Rock Hill, South Carolina, soon learns that “Football City, USA” basks in the glory of the dozens of youth leaguers who have gone on to win college championships and land coveted NFL contracts. Competitive football is so essential to the city of 75,000 that a longtime high school coach can’t even pause to watch a nearby middle school game, lest he is accused of recruiting. But in the aftermath of a mass shooting by a famous homegrown player whose family blamed football for his troubles, some parents and coaches face tough questions about the role the sport plays in children’s lives.

Phillip Adams, whose NFL career is still celebrated on the county tourism website, is accused of killing Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife, two grandchildren, and two air conditioning technicians at the doctor’s home before killing himself last month. Investigators haven’t said what might have prompted the deadly attack.

People who knew the Rock Hill High graduate as a kind and mild-mannered young man wonder if the head injuries he suffered as a player affected his mental health. A probe of his brain was ordered to see whether he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. This possibly degenerative disease has been shown to cause violent mood swings and other cognitive disorders in some athletes.

His father, Alonzo Adams, told WCNC-TV that “he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up.” And his sister, Lauren Adams, told USA Today that her brother’s “mental health degraded fast and terribly bad” in recent years, leaving him with “extremely concerning” signs of mental illness, including an escalating temper.

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