NFL taps Thurman

Posted Apr 21, 2008

Updated: 6 p.m.

In keeping pace with his star-crossed football career, Odell Thurman's best moments have come at the worst times.

Thurman received his long-awaited reinstatement from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday after a two-year exile for violating the league's substance abuse policy, but he was home in Monticello, Ga., by the bedside of his gravely ill grandmother.

Betty Thurman, 80, a breast cancer survivor of 20 years who has also undergone heart surgery, has been constantly on Thurman's mind, according to one of his representatives, while everyone else has been riveted on word from New York.

"She's not doing very well and it's really the last family he has left," Safarrah Lawson said Monday afternoon. "He's elated to be reinstated, but it's bittersweet."

Betty Thurman raised Odell from the time his mother Joyce was killed in a car accident when he was 10. His father, Otis, died of liver and kidney failure a couple of days before his first college game.

His problems have followed him to the pros after he slid out of the first round of the 2005 draft because of some off-field incidents while at the University of Georgia. But Lawson is hoping that with Goodell allowing him back to Paul Brown Stadium to work out last January and now officially letting him back on the team it marks a turning point.

The move means Thurman will be on the field for the spring camps in May and June for the first time since Goodell suspended him for four games in July of 2006 for violations of the substance abuse policy.

Goodell turned it into the entire year two months later when Thurman was arrested Sept. 25 on a DUI in a case where he admitted in court he is an alcoholic.

Then for reasons he didn't make public because of the policy's privacy guidelines, Goodell didn't reinstate him for the 2007 season.

Lawson has said that Thurman has not failed a drug or alcohol test in the two years of his suspension.

"I think it really helped him to come back to the stadium and be around his teammates," Lawson said. "I do think he's going to make it. I think he's been clean for two years and that he's ready to get back to playing and getting on the field. He'll have the spring and training camp to knock the rust off."

Lawson said Thurman is in the 250-pound range, a good 10 pounds over where the Bengals want him, "but that will come off easily once the camps start."

Before coming back to PBS, Thurman split his time between Cincinnati and Monticello, home of his three children, and worked out as well as working a construction job.

"Odell has met the NFL's conditions for reinstatement and has been added to our offseason roster," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a press release. "It is now up to Odell to continue to meet all NFL guidelines, and to maintain a standard of personal responsibility that will allow him the chance to compete for a spot on our team."

But Thurman, who turns 25 two weeks before training camp opens, hasn't played in a game since 2005 when he emerged as a leading Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He had a team-high 148 tackles and four forced fumbles to go with five interceptions that led all NFL rookies.

And it doesn't sound like Lewis is going to put him anywhere near the top of the depth chart any time soon. He has consistently said the club can't count on Thurman, so look for him to start the journey back near the bottom.

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