THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF INJUSTICE
THIS WEBSITE IS DEDICATED TO EXPOSING THE TRUE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY LENWOOD "SKIP" HAMILTON
Hamilton has every reason to be bitter yet he wants to trust everyone, often to a fault. Why does he always see the good in people rather than cast a wary eye?
"I've never had hatred in my heart for no one," Hamilton says.
Why does "Skip" Hamilton believe he has a story to tell?
Lenwood Hamilton is amazed he still is alive at age 54. He survived tremendous physical and mental abuse by the age of eight. He wears the emotional scars of not being wanted by his closest family members. He's escaped near-death incidents as a youngster and as an adult. He was sexually violated in a group home by a boy twice his age. His glory years in high school were at an almost all-white middle class school where he was one of two African-American athletes, leading to bouts of racism. Academic deficiencies and an inability to harness his good times off the field spoiled a promising football career at North Carolina State, where he was on scholarship. He's coped with the disappointment of coming so close to reaching his dream of playing in the National Football League. He endured approximately five months in a New Orleans maximum security prison after being the only one of five Southern University football players convicted of attempted forcible rape. Charges were eventually dropped when witnesses for the accuser admitted they had lied on the stand to protect her trumped up story. He has seen teammates and friends who achieved more than he did pass away at a young age, some from the effects of playing pro football. More than anything, Hamilton believes others can benefit from his experiences, especially youngsters who may be facing similar crises alone.
After 31 years, through a chance search of the internet, Lenwood "Skip" Hamilton's name pops up in a story on the North Carolina State sports website. A recent inventory of sports memorabilia stored away in the school's old basketball arena mentions among the unclaimed items are three rings from the N.C. State's 1979 Atlantic Coast Conference championship football season. Hamilton is one of the missing – for he didn't even know the ring existed. Calls are made, emails are exchanged and Hamilton's long lost ACC Championship ring arrives in the mail to his home in Norristown, PA.
To Hamilton, this ring means everything. It gives him a sense of belonging to something and is physical evidence he can show everyone, especially his children, that one time he was a big-time college football player. "This is like a Super Bowl ring," Hamilton beams. "I can't believe I'm wearing it. You don't know how much this means to me!" He's amazed they still remembered him at N.C. State even though he was only there for a little more than two years. These were the best years of his life; his teammates embraced him like the family he never had. Thirty years after the championship season, the team holds a reunion and extends an invitation to Hamilton. Because of financial reasons, he can't make the trip to Raleigh, N.C., but his teammates filled him on the festivities. "He was feared," says Karl Hollingsworth, an all-state linebacker from Fayetteville, N.C. who was Hamilton's teammate for one season. "To me and a lot of others, he's considered a
Hamilton and his older sister, are raised in Chicago by who they believe are their mother and father but are actually a great aunt and uncle (maternal grandmother's brother). Their biological mother moved from Philadelphia to Chicago while she was pregnant with his older sister and left her baby girl behind in Chicago when she returned to Philadelphia. It wasn't proper in the late 1950s for a single woman to be pregnant in what is allegedly a religious household. Lenwood was born in Philadelphia less than two years later, also out of wedlock. At nine months old, Lenwood is sent by his grandparents to live in Chicago with his great aunt and uncle, after they traveled east to visit. After a year in Chicago, the family moves to rural Grand Junction, Michigan, where they build a house on 16 acres. During the week, Hamilton often is free to roam and play as he pleases or help his great aunt pick fruits and vegetables. Often, he just stays outside all day, playing with his dog Cecil, until "Momma" calls him inside for dinner. "I used to love climbing trees," Lenwood says. "Every tree was a challenge to me. I would face them head on, without thinking, climbing higher and higher and higher until I couldn't climb no more. And then ... I had no idea how to get down."
Hamilton's care-free life vanishes by the time he's five years old. His great uncle, or "Daddy," still works all week in the Chicago area – supposedly for International Harvester -- and comes home on Friday nights for the weekend. By Thursday nights, Hamilton is trembling and sick with fear. Daddy, for reasons unknown to the youngster, uses Hamilton as his personal punching bag. Sometimes, the family even goes away and leaves Hamilton at home cooped up in an underground pump house. The room is dark but for a small slit of light that slips its way in between two boards. Cats walk along the top of the walls, looking at Hamilton with a quizzical stare as if to say, "What are you doing in here?" "I'd cry 'let me out of here, let me out of here,'" Hamilton says. His great uncle, Lenwood says, whips him with an extension cord, smacks him with the backside of his hand while they're in the car. Other times, he strips Lenwood bare and ties him to a big tree in the backyard and whacks him. "I remember I couldn't wait for him to leave and go to work on Sunday evening because I knew I wouldn't get hit anymore until Friday evening, when he would return from Chicago," Hamilton recalls. "But I know momma would tell him something that I did and I knew the beatings were coming. I was only 5 years old, and this man was hitting me like a grown man."
In many ways, Hamilton's status becomes lower than the animals who live on the property. Hamilton starts running away – the final time breaking down the door of the pump house with a sledgehammer. He's caught stealing a bike belonging to a white boy in Grand Junction, Mich, by the boy's mother. Hamilton pleads not to be taken back to his house, and the mother instead brings him home to her house, bathes him, feeds him and calls the local juvenile authorities.
Because he is so young and the rural Michigan county in the mid 1960s lacks proper facilities for young runaways and orphans, Hamilton is placed in a some sort of home, which he now believes in retrospect was a mental asylum. He was never properly adopted by his great aunt and uncle, so Hamilton is given the opportunity to return to Philadelphia and be reunited with his real mother (by now he understands his aunt and uncle are not his parents). Hamilton jumps at the opportunity to come home to his grandmother's home in west Philadelphia where his mother, older sister Barbara and a few other relates all live. He initially is showered with attention from his grandmother and aunts – but not his mother, who keeps an emotional distance from her biological son and spends most of her time working. There are just too many people with their own issues to bother with Hamilton, and he's more of a nuisance than a young boy craving love and nurturing. "First my (older) sister Barbara started jumping on me," Hamilton says. "For no reason she would just walk past me and push me into the wall. Then it seemed like my Aunt Charlotte started doing the same thing. I became the joke of everybody's laughter. I first was called 'big eared monkey," then I was told I was starting to look like a gorilla. Now this will really trip you out, they even said my butt was too big. They would have me spin around in the middle of the floor in the living room in front of company, talking about how big my butt was. And they'd put all these clothespins on my ears, which hurt like hell." Again, Hamilton's sometimes stripped of his clothes, this time by an aunt's boyfriend, and locked in the row home's basement. Many nights, Hamilton runs to the end of the street and sleeps between garages in an adjacent alley. Says Vern McKenzie, who grew up on Felton Street with Hamilton, "Skip had family issues that we didn't know about, but I knew he was getting ass kickings. Our family treated him like one of our own and tried to help him." The most stinging comment, which still echoes in Hamilton's head to this day, comes one day when he asks "Are you my mommy?" and the sneering retort from his biological mother is "I ain't your damn mother and don't you call me that!"
Hamilton believes his only recourse is to flee his grandmother's home on Felton Street. "I don't know how old I was but I know I was running away ... sleeping under porches," Hamilton says. "Finally, one time the police found me and I told the cops I was scared. My feet felt like they were frostbitten. They put me in the Youth Studies Center. It was a detention center for bad kids and I really didn't belong there but they didn't know where else to put me."
Hamilton begins a nearly 10-year journey through a litany of detention centers, children's homes and youth centers from center city Philadelphia, to York, Pa., to Mount Holly, N.J., to suburban Philadelphia. Sometimes he is housed with children much older and wiser because he is big for his age. Regardless of where he is placed and no matter how close to his mother's west Philadelphia home he is, Hamilton rarely is visited, even on holidays. "Everyone would get visitors and no one would come to see me," Hamilton says. "The others would get presents and I'd get nothing. I'd just sit in my room and cry."
Along the way, he almost accidently dies when a counselor's gun goes off in a car in which Hamilton and his friend Sam are sitting in. "I was living at Franklin Village (in downtown Philadelphia) then and we were sitting out front in Mr. Theed's car. He'd let us do that. We found a pistol in the glove compartment and Sam started playing with it. I said stop it and pushed it away and it went off, blowing out the windshield. I remember Mr. Theed saying 'You can fix a windshield but you can't fix a life." Hamilton runs the streets of Philadelphia and perfects the art of stealing bicycles and breaking into cars for tools, often to please older boys who lord over him. Hamilton also comes in contact with counselors who try to make a difference in his life and set him on a proper course. He admits their guidance influences him in many ways 40 years later. By the time he becomes a teenager, Hamilton's athletic skills and imposing physique pique the interest of private schools who believe they can tame the wild child and capitalize on his athletic talents. "Stevens and Friends wanted me to play basketball for them but I had to take a test to get in," Hamilton says. "I tried to take the test but I didn't know any of the answers at all and that was the end of that."
In an attempt to get Hamilton out of the city one final time, he is placed at Silver Springs and its on-campus Martin Luther School on a 36-acre farm in the Philadelphia suburb of Plymouth Township. Hamilton begins attending Plymouth Junior High School and everything seems to be falling into place. He establishes himself as a star football and basketball player and is destined to play for Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, one of the top sport programs in the state. Word is getting out about this incredibly gifted athlete who could be paired with the star of their sister junior high, Marvis Frazier, son of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier. "Willie was Mug, Larry, my step brother, was Jug, and I was Ugh. We couldn't be stopped and we were all headed to Plymouth-Whitemarsh together. They were predicting state championships when we got there," Hamilton says.
Hamilton's future at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High never materializes after he's involved in an incident with a counselor at Silver Springs that gets him expelled. A counselor tells Hamilton to turn down his stereo, and Hamilton asks why he has to when a boy across the hall is playing his stereo. When the counselor approaches Hamilton's stereo – his most prized possession – Hamilton picks up a screwdriver and tries to keep the counselor away from the stereo. The act gets Hamilton expelled from Silver Springs and he's literally out on the street. "I was kind of staying with a brother in Black Horse but I was really out on the street. My case worker told me to hang in there a couple more days and maybe they can find another place for me," Hamilton says. "If not, they were talking about putting me in VisionQuest, a traveling boot camp taking care of horses that went across the country during the Bicentennial." Almost out of desperation, juvenile officials decide to move Hamilton from the Philadelphia area and give him one last chance to live in a residential setting and attend a public school. He is sent "up north" for placement at the Children's Home of Easton (Pa.). He is enrolled at nearby Wilson Area High School to start the 1975-76 school year and is one of only a handful of minority students and the only African-American athlete. This begins a Jackie Robinson-like saga for not only Hamilton but the Wilson students, who come from a small, tight-knit community and rural township that is exclusively white. "It was the first time I encountered racism," Hamilton says. "I didn't have no girl friend because I couldn't date a white girl and there were no black girls. When I was playing football and scoring touchdowns I was all right. When I fell in love and got a white girl pregnant I was a nigger."
Mike Danjczek, a former Lehigh University heavyweight wrestler, is a larger than life figure who runs the Children's Home of Easton. He is Hamilton's first father figure and the one person Hamilton truly admires and respects. Every time Hamilton encounters trouble or a crisis, Danjczek is there to pick him up, to support him, to set him back on the right course even long after Hamilton is not a resident of the home. Administrators like Danjczek, who risk everything for their clients, are rare but beloved. Hamilton, once he returns to work for the Children's Home at a satellite group home just a few years ago, comes to appreciate what Danjczek and his case workers sacrificed for him. "He was a big dude," Hamilton says. "He had this picture of him wrestling Chris Taylor in the Olympic Trials. When I first came to the Home, I had to go into an interview with him. Mr. (John) McGee, my caseworker from Philadelphia, brought me up to it." Joe Gonzalez, his caseworker at the children's home and now a senior administrator at the facility, also serves as a surrogate father, prodding Lenwood to train a little harder, study a little more diligently. Lenwood arrives on the bucolic campus overlooking the Lehigh River with a handful of clothes and the stereo he protected with his life. "When Skip came to the Children's Home, that was a time when we were first bringing in kids from Philadelphia." Gonzalez says. "Today, half the kids placed in in-need home care in the state are from Philadelphia. It shows the decay of the city."
Hamilton's dream is to play in the National Football League and he builds an impressive resume at Wilson, not only on the football field but as a basketball player and in track and field. He arrives for the first day of football practice wearing a leather Plymouth-Whitemarsh varsity jacket and a red beanie hat. He doesn't say a word in the locker room as he awaits to receive his equipment. None of the players know who he is; some think this 6-foot-2, 220-pound physical specimen is a pro athlete who is a friend of one of the Wilson coaches. Instead, he's a high school sophomore thrust into a new environment. Foolishly, the coaches stick him with the junior varsity team for the first morning session. Wisely, the coaches move him across the street to practice with the varsity, for good. Hamilton plays on the defensive line his first season, and as he learns the offensive plays becomes a featured running back as a junior and a senior. Hamilton's combination of size and breakaway speed draws the attention of many major college football programs. Letters arrive from Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Maryland, Boston College and even Nebraska. Most of the letters, however, Hamilton never sees because in reality the only school he has a chance of surviving at is North Carolina State, the alma mater of Wilson coach Pete Sokalsky and where Easton native Chuck Amato is an assistant coach. A support network is in place to ensure Hamilton, if he does the bare minimum, will remain academically eligible and thrive on the football field. What's really amazing is Hamilton, though functionally illiterate, is able to get this far in high school so he can qualify for college. "I'd write numbers down and I'd write them backwards," Hamilton says looking back. "I probably had dyslexia but they didn't know nothing about that back then. They just figured I was dumb or didn't care." The Children's Home does its best to provide Hamilton with tutors, but the catching up process is just too great to bring Hamilton up to the level of his fellow college-bound peers. "Skip's starting line was different. He was running a mile when everyone else was running the 100-yard dash," Gonzalez says. "The fact that he had about a fourth-grade reading level and could get halfway through college showed what kind of survival instinct he had."
Hamilton spends 2½ years (1978-80) at North Carolina State and is unstoppable, first as a back-up running back and then as a defensive tackle. Unfortunately, most of his starring moments are on the practice field, even after incurring a knee injury that precipitated the move to defensive tackle as he grew into a 6-foot-2, 280-pound beast. Without the boundaries often set earlier in life through a family structure he never experienced, Hamilton also is unchained off the field – partying to the hilt and rarely, if ever, studying or going to class. Most of his classes are beyond his comprehension and he's too proud to ask for help. It's easier to look for a co-ed to have a good time than to try and find the campus library. "They'd be discussing Aristotle and purgatory, and I'd say 'what the fuck?' I'd rather go get some pussy than go to class," Hamilton says. "I had more women and got high so much." Hamilton quickly creates a legacy that, though brief, still resonates with former N.C. State teammates to this day. "Skip, he's one of those once in a lifetime people you meet," says his former teammate Karl Hollingsworth. "He'd give you the shirt off his back, do anything for you. He was feared and he was passionate in his belief that if you were his friend he'd fight to the end for you. To me and some others down there, Skip was a legend." Head coach Bo Rein leaves N.C. State for the same post at Louisiana State University. and new coaching staff tries to run Hamilton off the squad during spring practice sessions in 1980. Hamilton refuses to give in, fighting everything the new coaching staff throw at him. Ultimately, Hamilton was informed later in the summer he would not be invited back for the 1980 fall season because the coaches have no time for a talented player who owns a failing grade point average. "They ran 30-40 plays at me, trying to run me off the team," Hamilton says with fire in his voice. "I refused to quit. I said, 'Coach, you can't break me. My teammates gave me a standing ovation. But then they called me when I got home for the summer and told me they didn't want me back. It hurts now to see (N.C. State) teammates who made it to the NFL and I was left behind."
Hamilton returns to Easton believing he's a failure, though he still hangs on to his dream of playing in the National Football League. He initially lives at the Easton Children's Home but moves on to live above a pool hall and then for a bit with the mother of his child. He works anywhere they'll pay him, even negotiating minor drug deals while working as a bouncer at local clubs. "I'd use, too, marijuana, cocaine, but never no needles," Hamilton says. "A string of menial jobs leaves him little. Still, the network of men in the Easton area who looked out for Hamilton when he was at Wilson and steered him to N.C. State, continue to pull strings behind the scenes. Amato, the former coach at N.C. State who moved on to Arizona State, makes some phone calls and arranges for Hamilton to enroll at either Southern or Grambling State, two historically black schools in Louisiana. Hamilton prefers Southern, in Baton Rouge, where a young, former N.C. State assistant coach, Buddy Green, is the team's defensive coordinator. Hamilton embarks on a vigorous correspondence course curriculum with the help of his Easton friends to regain his academic eligibility. "A guy named Hoddy Grollman was helping me," Hamilton says. "He told there are no shortcuts." Hamilton begins training with close friend Gino Nolasco at an equally frenetic pace at a field less than 100 yards from the Children's Home of Easton.
Hamilton arrives at Southern University, sight unseen, in the summer of 1981 and it's the Garden of Eden, though he proclaims "I'm ready to make it; my head's on straight." But temptations at the Baton Rouge campus are everywhere – more beautiful black women than he's ever seen at one place -- and he's the new big man on campus. Again, he dominates his position on the football field, rarely goes to classes or opens a book and is the life of the party. Jeff Fisher, a classmate of Hamilton's at Wilson, found himself in Baton Rouge in the fall of 1982 to watch an LSU game with Steve Mangino, another classmate and football teammate of Hamilton, and Steve Williams, a classmate at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. On a lark, they go across town to Southern in search of Hamilton. "We walked on campus and all eyes turned on us because we were the only white guys on campus," Fisher says with a laugh. "I'm thinking I'm not in the right place but Steve (Mangino) is pretty ballsy and when someone asks us if we're lost, he says 'We're here to see Skip Hamilton.' And the guy goes 'you're Skip's buddies ... I'll take you right to him. They walked us right to the dorm and when we got there, two light-skinned black girls walked out. He was so happy to see us. Then, I looked around his room and he didn't have any books. I said 'Skip, where are your books? He said, 'I don't got any books. I don't have to take classes." No one can live in a candy store 24/7 and survive. "I knew I had to slow down," Hamilton says. The good times are about to come to a crashing end and dramatically affect his life forever.
Every year Southern and Grambling State meet in a season-ending game called the "Bayou Classic" in the Louisiana Superdome. It is the preeminent game in black college football. Numerous NFL players have competed in the game, and Grambling is coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson. To win the Bayou Classic makes or breaks the season for the schools. "I learned quickly this was the most important game of the year," Hamilton says. Hamilton caps his two seasons at Southern with a win over Grambling in the 1982 game to complete an 8-3 season. The Southern players are let loose in New Orleans after the game. Hamilton parties with his buddies and heads for Bourbon Street. When it begins raining, Hamilton returns to the hotel. Not surprisingly, Hamilton meets up with a light-skinned black woman in the lobby of the team's hotel. It's the same woman, he finds out later, who made contact with two of his teammates earlier in the day and arranged for a rendezvous. "I knew I was going to have a good time that night and I told my girl (friend) to go home, that I was going out with the boys," Hamilton says. "That was my big mistake." Hamilton and the woman head upstairs to a room that includes four teammates ready for sexual pleasures. Their good times suddenly turn sour. The woman quickly leaves when she sees hickies arising on her neck. The next day, coaches approach Hamilton and his four teammates and say the woman has filed rape charges against them. Hamilton and his teammates admit there was sex with the woman but she was a willing participant. In fact, she allegedly is a prostitute who works for her husband out of their home in the suburb of New Iberia. Nevertheless, the "Southern Five" are jailed for 10 days on charges of aggravated rape until Southern head coach Otis Washington puts his house up as collateral to post the $50,000 bail that releases his players, though one of them, Hamilton, no longer has any football eligibility remaining.
Hamilton goes from the toast of the Southern campus to being shunned by almost everyone. He's ignored by classmates; he has no use to a football team because he's exhausted his eligibility. "I'd hear 'there goes that nigger who raped that girl,'" Hamilton says, emotion building in voice. He claims the local officers interrogated him knowing full well the alleged victim was lying, but a woman detective, he says, insists he is lying. "I had no reason to lie," Hamilton says. With no relatives to turn to and his support system in Easton more than 1,000 miles away, Hamilton possesses no resources and few advisors to prepare for his upcoming case. He believes the original court appointed attorney sells them out. A grand jury decides there's enough evidence to bring a case to trial in late May, which is then postponed to August 1983. "Our lawyer didn't even show up when we testified for the grand jury," Hamilton says. "We were indicted by our own testimony."
Hamilton obtains a tryout with Montreal of the Canadian Football League in early spring of 1983 and impresses the scout. He is set to sign a contract that would pay him $55,000 for the first year and $60,000 for the second year. When the team discovers Hamilton is awaiting trial on rape charges it withdraws the offer. Pro scouts were giving Hamilton "positive appraisals" during the 1982 season according to Southern sports information director Bennie Thomas, but he then added, "Who would be foolhardy to draft someone who may be incarcerated?" NFL scouts who were tracking Hamilton during his final season at Southern stop calling. "I was drinking more than ever; I was even thinking of suicide," Hamilton says. Still, Hamilton maintains his innocence and believes his name will be cleared at the trial. As the oldest of the Southern Five, Hamilton serves as a mentor to the other four and keeps up their spirits. ""You're the strong one, Skip,' they'd tell me," Hamilton says.
The trial for the Southern Five begins in August 1983 and lasts eight days. It's a time when Hamilton believes he would've been in an NFL training camp, possibly with the Pittsburgh Steelers, vying for a position as a defensive tackle. "The Steelers were on me hard, I'm telling you," Hamilton insists. Instead, he's in a courtroom with his future in the hands of a New Orleans jury. One positive is the Southern Five has new legal representation in Peter Castano and John Umsworth, though they may be too late to the case to make a difference at this point. Hamilton refuses to a plea deal because he insists he is innocent and has nothing to hide. Hamilton, honest to a fault, admits the group had sex with the woman but it was consensual. The jury doesn't see it that way; they believe the alleged victim's story and Hamilton is fingered as the ring leader. When the verdict is read after 16 hours of jury deliberation, two players are acquitted, two are granted retrials when verdicts can't be reached, and Hamilton is found guilty of attempted forcible rape and immediately sent to prison without bail by Judge Dennis Waldron. For four months, 16 days, Hamilton is incarcerated at Orleans Parish Prison – the government's version of the Michigan pump house and Philadelphia row home basement horrors that Hamilton thought were long in his past. "The only thing worse than this was death," Hamilton says. "I was in there with murderers, rapists, one guy was a cannibal ... he ate his roommate and even ate his dog!"
Day by day, Hamilton tries to survive life in jail. Mike Danjczek flies down from Pennsylvania to visit Hamilton in jail but can get no farther than the lobby of the prison. "I could hear his voice but they wouldn't let him see me," Hamilton says. "I don't know why. Maybe they couldn't figure out why a white guy wanted to help a black guy." Hamilton's lawyers continue to work on his case. Miraculously, one of the prison guards happened to be on the hotel floor the night Hamilton and the Southern players were frolicking with the accuser. The prison guard admits he was with the cousin of the accused, who admitted lying on the stand to support her cousin's case. "When I walked down the hallway at the hotel with that girl, he looked out at his door at us; he was with her cousin that night," Hamilton says. "He thought we got off on the charges, but when he found out we didn't he came forth and told his story. He said to me when I was in prison, 'Don't you remember me looking at you? I told him, 'you got to tell them what happened.'" When it's revealed the cousin was lying and the prosecution's case is crumbling, Hamilton is freed on $100,000 bail on December 23, 1983, but not after serving four months, 16 days in Orleans Parish Prison. The exact length of the sentence remains etched in Hamilton's mind as much as his wedding date and his childrens' birthdays. In January, 1984, Hamilton is granted a new trial for March, but before the trial comes to court, the prosecution withdraws its charges against Hamilton in late February and he is a free man. Hamilton still is enough of a pro prospect that on the day he is released from prison, the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League are in a contact to arrange for a tryout, and on the day in March that charges were dropped Hamilton is lining up a workout session for the Winnipeg Jets of the Canadian Football League. "I've been down all my life, but if you have a strong mind you can put it all behind you and go on," Hamilton tells a New Orleans area reporter the day the charges are dropped.
Hamilton takes a huge step toward realizing his dream of playing professional football and returns home to Easton and lives with his friend Gino Nolasco. The two train every day under the scorching sun. The hometown Philadelphia Eagles bring Hamilton in for a workout. He shows enough to earn a free agent contract in June, 1984, and is invited to preseason camp at West Chester University. The odds are against him because the Eagles already are stocked with veteran defensive linemen. He draws the attention of Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer Jere Longman, who features him in a story during training camp. Hamilton also conducts interviews with Philadelphia TV stations, who probe into his New Orleans incarceration and hardscrabble life. Prior to his arrival the Eagles were wallowing in bad publicity from off-field incidents by some of their players, and the franchise could ill afford another player who might run afoul of the law. In retrospect, Hamilton believes the unfiltered interviews hurt his chances to make the team. Hamilton holds his own against the Eagles' veterans and impresses friends who come to see him and even those who didn't know who he was before visiting camp. "I went to training camp to see Andre Waters, who was a free agent at the time and was my teammate at Cheyney (University)," says Buddy Epps, a barber and community youth coach in Norristown, Pa. "Andre called me and said 'you got to see this dude we have at nose guard. Nobody can block him. He's killing people." Years later, Epps and Hamilton reconnect when they meet at a Norristown gym and Epps relates the story to Hamilton. Hamilton is cut by the Eagles in late August. When he is released by the Eagles, calls are made to arrange for Hamilton to play in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos. "They figured they'd send me up there for a year or two and then bring me back," Hamilton says.
It's not the National Football League but the Canadian Football League still is professional football, albeit with slightly different rules. Hamilton thrives on the defensive line with the Edmonton Eskimos and is drawing a paycheck as he finishes up the 1984 season and embarks on the 1985 season. One of his defensive line teammates is John Mandarich, nicknamed "Juicer" and the older brother of Green Bay Packers first-round draft pick Tony Mandarich, a noted steroid user who's career evaporated in the early 1990s when the National Football League instituted stringent drug testing. Hamilton believes it's only a matter of time before he returns to the NFL and can prove how good he is to everyone. However, Hamilton's inability to harness his life off the field ultimately hinders his ability to perform on the field. He grows disillusioned with the Canadian Football League and returns home, nearly killing himself when his car careens off the road and almost goes over a cliff.
Do a Google search of Lenwood Hamilton and it shows he played in one NFL game for the Philadelphia Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys. Though there isn't an asterisk, there should be. This game occurs in 1987 when NFL players are in the midst of a mid-season strike and the league orders teams to fill their rosters with replacement players, or scabs. Hamilton, who lives nearby in Norristown, Pa., answers the call to fill a spot on a team coached reluctantly by Buddy Ryan, who exhibits nothing but disdain for his cast of replacements. Hamilton, by now, is far removed from peak physical shape and struggles in practice. Moreover, he must cross a picket line of NFL players that includes Mike Quick, the Eagles star receiver who was his teammate at N.C. State. Hamilton assesses the situation and glumly realizes his dream is dead. He hands in his Eagles uniform and walks away from professional football for good.
What do you do when you do not have an education to fall back on? What do you do when, as a professional athlete, you don't have a name to live on? Hamilton wonders why he just didn't attend class at North Carolina State and do what his coaches and academic advisors told him to do. Now, he would at least have a college degree. He admires former teammate Robert Abraham, a linebacker who may have been on Hamilton's academic level but took his studies seriously and earned a degree. Hamilton works odd jobs and sometimes aligns himself with shady characters who lead him into minor run-ins with the law. People who once embraced Hamilton and tried to help him when he was younger abandon him, or so he believes. Fortunately, Hamilton meets his future wife, Debbie, who he calls his "backbone," and he slowly pulls himself together. They begin a family that results in four children – two boys and two girls. He also has two other daughters by two women earlier in his life, and he has little, if no contact with them.
When most former athletes are settling into middle age and refining their golf games, Hamilton is tossing himself around in the "squared circle" of pro wrestling, learning the tricks of the trade from the famous Wild Samoans at their wrestling school in Allentown, Pa. Hamilton, now in his mid-30s, believes he is on the cusp of joining the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and becoming an international star. He drops his weight from nearly 500 pounds into the 300s and displays the agility and moves of wrestlers half his size. He's sent to Europe and the Middle East to tour and play a subservient role to bigger, well-known stars. Though a deal to sign with the WWF falls through, Hamilton's personality is magnetic and he attracts investors to help him launch "Soul City Wrestling," a minority-based wrestling organization that performs in the Philadelphia area and delivers family-based entertainment void of profanity and racial stereotypes that are prevalent in many other pro wrestling circuits. Naturally, "Hard Rock" Hamilton is the star of the show and the champion.
As the popularity of pro wrestling subsides, so does Soul City Wrestling's engagements. The wear and tear of wrestling and before that, pro football, have taken a toll on Hamilton's body and he walks with a limp. He believes knee replacements are in his future, and he has carved out a living by driving taxi and later a limo for clients who conduct business in suburban Philadelphia and must be shuttled to Philadelphia Airport. Hamilton's vivacious personality and incredible life story enthralls riders who care to ask. On more than one occasion, a rider proclaims "you should write a book."
The greatest hit on the economy since the Great Depression causes businesses to cut back on many of its excesses. With them went Hamilton's steady work driving limo. To make ends meet, he used his connections at The Children's Home of Easton to secure a job working as a house parent at a group home it owns in south Bethlehem. Hamilton mostly worked weekends or as a fill-in when needed. He noted the clientele the Children's Home attracts is much different from when he was a resident. Many of the boys have criminal records, and was discovered one of the residents was a member of a gang based just a few doors away from the group home. Nonetheless, Hamilton tried to make a difference in their lives, impressing on them right from wrong. Listen to me, he'd say, so you don't repeat my mistakes. He believes everything he's been through – and that he's still alive to tell about it – is to serve a greater purpose. While helping a handful of teenage boys is a start, Hamilton is certain he should be speaking to a larger audience. However, Hamilton is cracked in the back of the head with a brick thrown by a resident who refused to perform a chore requested by Hamilton. A concussion and recurring headaches lead Hamilton to accept workman's compensation as he recuperates from the incident. Coupled with his chronic knee programs, which sometime forced him to walk with a cane, Hamilton is unsure if he'll ever be able to work or what the future holds for him. Yet, he insists, as long as he can get into a car and walk onto a stage, he has a message that must be heard.