George Atkinson III, former running back for Notre Dame, has died, according to multiple reports. He was 27.
No cause of death was available, but Pete Sampson of The Athletic tweeted that Atkinson had been suffering from depression since his twin brother Josh killed himself in January 2019.
Former Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III has died. Atkinson III has been dealing with depression since the death of his twin brother Josh roughly one year ago. Both were part of Notre Dame’s 2011 recruiting class.
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) December 3, 2019
Both Atkinson and his twin brother were part of Notre Dame’s 2011 recruiting class. They were the sons of legendary Oakland Raiders defensive back George Atkinson II.
Atkinson and his brother had a rough upbringing, living with their schizophrenic mother until they were 13. In an open letter “to kids going through tough times” that Atkinson wrote after his brother’s death, he described how his mother used crack to self medicate, and how the instability in their lives affected him and his brother.
Our lives were never stable. We moved around a lot because my mom wouldn’t be able to pay rent or she would damage the property, writing on the walls. They put my brother and me in special education classes because we weren’t attending school regularly, which affected our self-esteem.
Their father stepped in to take care of them when they were 13, giving George and Josh the discipline and stability they badly needed.
They both ended up at Notre Dame, but Atkinson never lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him due to his father’s talent. He primarily returned punts, and jumped to the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining. He returned punts for the Raiders in 2014 and for the Cleveland Browns in 2016, but was relegated mostly to practice squads.
Following his brother’s death in January, Atkinson wrote that he tried to harm himself, and he was forced into the same institution that once held his mother. His daughter, who was two at the time, helped him find his way out of a very dark time.
Without my daughter, I don’t know where I would be right now. She gave me that second wind of motivation.
I went to seek help and spoke to a psychologist. I realized I had to let go of this ego that made me think sharing my feelings was showing weakness. Also, I had to learn to love myself.
Like you, I am still struggling. My mother’s birthday just passed and I know the holidays this year won’t be easy. But I am trying to take life one day at a time.
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