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Authorities are still trying to piece together what happened to ex-Cowboys running back Marion Barber. Just a few days shy of his 39th birthday, the former fourth-round draft pick was found unresponsive in his Frisco apartment on Wednesday.
A cause of death has not been announced as of midday Thursday, but it is apparent that Barber was going through an especially tough time in his final days. As per a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report, Barber had not had any contact with anyone since Saturday.
Local police were apparently notified of water leaking from an apartment leased to Barber and reported to the residence to perform a welfare check. They had to force entry into the apartment.
A punishing runner with the football, Barber was released by the Cowboys in 2011 after six seasons with the club. He played one more year with Chicago before retiring from football and, in most regards, public life.
When his name did surface in the media, it was generally as part of a story that caused concern.
According to Clarence Hill Jr., Barber had been hospitalized twice for mental health evaluations since leaving the game.
Barber was detained by police in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield in 2014 and taken to a hospital for one of those evaluations. An arrest in 2019 followed, resulting from an incident where he allegedly damaged two vehicles while he was running in Frisco.
He pleaded no contest in that case, to two counts of criminal mischief, just a few weeks ago. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 60 hours of community service, and a $2,000 fine.
Barber claimed he had been profiled by local police.
Former Cowboys teammate Dez Bryant was particularly worried about Barber last July.
Responding to a video highlight package featuring Barber, Bryant tweeted, “As I watch this video and me knowing exactly how Marion barber life is going right now today is why I built @personalcorner,” referring to a website the wide receiver had helped to start. “I can’t even enjoy it because he’s down and out bad… we are just a stat and moments to most people…”
In another post Wednesday night, Bryant paid tribute to Barber, mentioning his name alongside Demaryius Thomas and Vincent Jackson, other NFL players who have passed away recently at a young age.
“They can’t tell us what’s happening. We all know!” Bryant said, later stating that he had “another meeting” with the NFL Players Association set for Thursday.
Safety Keith Davis was Barber’s teammate in Dallas for three seasons and had remained close with the Minnesota native. The pair spoke weekly; their last conversation was on Friday. Davis says he sent Barber a Bible verse on Wednesday, as was his tradition.
“It’s crazy,” Davis said. “It makes me feel like, ‘Did I do enough? Could I have done something else?’ I know whatever happened to him, it wasn’t him.”
Davis, like Bryant, alluded to the terrible mental toll the sport has exacted on so many football players, sometimes long after their careers. Hall of Fame offensive lineman and Cowboys legend Rayfield Wright just passed away in April at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with dementia and was vocal about memory issues, cognitive problems, headaches, and seizures.
Barber had been out of football for only 10 years.
But Davis’s comments hint at a belief that the tragic consequences that hastened the end of Barber’s life were likely the result of countless violent hits his friend sustained on the field.
“We all play this game. I have these crazy thoughts,” Davis said. “But I have people around me. I can’t remember certain stuff. It gets scary sometimes. But that hurt. That hurt. He has a great heart. He loved his music. Whatever happened to him, it was not MB.”