In the Star-Ledger today, Jenny Vrentas tells the story of Keith Fitzhugh, a former safety on the Jets practice squad. With the Jets shorthanded because of injuries to Jim Leonhard and James Ihedigbo, the club contacted Fitzhugh yesterday and offered him a job — and he turned it down. Why would a healthy 24-year-old do such a thing? Because accepting the offer to play on the Jets practice squad would mean giving up a stable job, with health benefits, as a train conductor with the Norfolk Southern railroad. And it’s a risk he can’t afford to take.
It’s important for him to have a steady stream of income — more often than not elusive in the NFL — because his father is disabled and cannot work. Keith Fitzhugh, Sr., has had hip replacements and bad knees, and struggles to walk. He has been unable to work since his son left to play football at Mississippi State.
Fitzhugh lives at home and helps support a family that is not big, but very close-knit, particularly since losing his younger sister, Brittany, to the West Nile Virus five years ago. She was bitten by a mosquito when she was 11, and her condition slowly deteriorated as if she had multiple sclerosis: she began losing her vision and hair, developed lesions on the back of her brain and burst blood through her neck.
That’s a pretty tough decision to make for someone who says that playing in the NFL was his childhood dream. But Fitzhugh says that he’s keeping in shape, and while this opportunity wasn’t right for him, he didn’t rule out ever playing again. Now that his story’s been made public, he’s sure to have an awful lot of people rooting for him to do so — if the opportunity is right, of course.
Update: Manish Mehta reports that the Jets had offered Fitzhugh a spot on the practice squad, and not on the active roster. This post has been updated to reflect this information.