The Denver Broncos’ 23-year-old wide receiver, No. 11 Kenny McKinley, was discovered dead on Monday, September 20. A female friend discovered his body in the second floor master bedroom of his Centennial, Colorado home, after returning to McKinley’s house after she had run an errand with his son. Police were called at 3:35pm local time. McKinley appears to have died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an apparent suicide. It has not been confirmed if a suicide note was left or discovered.
In a statement to the media on Tuesday, Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels said, “Kenny had a promising future on the football field, but more importantly, he was a great teammate whose smile and personality could light up the room. This is a tragic loss for our football team, and his family is in all of our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.’’
McKinley was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Broncos and played in eight games that year as a kick returner. On December 28, 2009, he was placed on the team’s injured reserve list with a knee injury where he remained until his death. McKinley played collegiate football for the University of South Carolina from 2005 to 2008. He set school career records for receptions and receiving yards, despite sitting on the bench for three consecutive games as the result of a right hamstring strain.
The Broncos have seen their fair share of tragedy in the past few years, and McKinley’s death is the latest tragedy with which the team will have to deal. In 2007, cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting on New Year’s Day, and a few short months later, the team’s back-up running back Damien Nash collapsed and died in St. Louis after a charity basketball game. The exact cause of Nash’s death remains undetermined, although it was ruled a natural death of cardiac origin.
The investigation surrounding McKinley’s death is still ongoing and it may be some time before more details are brought to light surrounding his personal life and any mental illnesses, such as depression, that may have contributed to his suicide. That being said, many people have already begun to speculate whether McKinley’s long-term position on the Broncos’ injured reserve list may have contributed to his sudden death. Although depression and other mental illnesses are often regarded as signs of weakness in professional athletes, they are serious conditions that, when ignored and untreated, can spiral out of control, affecting even the most successful athletes in the league.