The tragic death of former NFL player Cedric Benson

Cedric Benson was one of the most successful running backs at the University of Texas. According to the Austin American-Statesman, he racked up the second-most rushing yards in the Longhorns' football history during his time there from 2001-2004. He won the Doak Walker Award — given to the nation's top college football running back — in his senior year, and was a contender for the Heisman Trophy. He was a number four overall draft pick, going to the Chicago Bears, and would go on to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Green Bay Packers. He rushed for a total of 6,017 yards and snagged 32 touchdowns during his eight years in the NFL.

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, the 36-year-old former football star posted a picture of his BMW motorcycle to Instagram with the text, "My Saturday evening." Later that night, while riding the bike with a passenger on the back through the hilly roads of west Austin, Texas, Benson crashed into a minivan that had pulled out into the road at an intersection with very limited visibility. The crash resulted in the tragic deaths of both Benson and his passenger, Aamna Najam, a 27-year-old audiologist who had recently gotten her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. The crash also started a fire in the vehicles, but the two people in the minivan were not severely injured. The autopsy report would show that Benson had alcohol and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.

The intersection where Cedric Benson died is notoriously dangerous

Two months after that fatal crash, Benson's autopsy report showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.02 at the time of the crash. The legal limit for driving in Texas is 0.08, so the report did not conclude that he was legally intoxicated at the time. While the report also showed that Benson had the psychoactive component of marijuana, THC, in his system at the time, toxicology experts told Austin's ABC affiliate that it was not possible to determine whether or not he was "impaired" at the time of the crash from the levels that were detected in the autopsy.

As neighbors and police told the American-Statesman the day after the crash, the intersection where the crash occurred is dangerous due to the extremely limited visibility caused by the hilly terrain. "Unfortunately this area has really poor visibility so if you aren't really careful or you are going slightly over the speed limit, it is very difficult to stop," said Austin police Sergeant Eric Wilson. Located at the bottom of a hill, the intersection has a blind spot that makes pulling out from the other road a sort of leap of faith. A local resident who preferred to remain anonymous said that he had lived in the area for seven years and still got scared every time he pulled out onto the road where Benson died.

Family, friends, and former colleagues mourned the loss of Cedric Benson

Although the Austin Police didn't immediately identify Benson and Najam as the two deaths in the accident, the news of Benson's passing was spread by those closest to him who mourned the tragic loss on social media. His brother Dominic broke the news on Facebook the day after the crash. "No no no no no no God no!!!! Why him man!!!!! Not Ced man," he wrote. Benson's former high school teammate Joe Norman remembered their shared accomplishments on Twitter, saying that their team "had one of the best rosters to ever play in High School Football in America. RIP Ceddy B."

The American-Statesman quoted Benson's former coach at UT, Mack Brown, who said, "He was a true spirit. One of the toughest players we've ever coached, if not the toughest." And Tom Herman, UT head coach at the time of Benson's death, said in a statement posted to Twitter: "We lost a true Longhorn legend, one of the best running backs in college football history and a really special man." Benson truly left an indelible impression on those closest to him, and his legacy continues to do so to this day.

Cedric Benson had started a charity for young people before his death

After his successful stint in the NFL, Cedric Benson pursued a professional career in the financial services industry. He worked in Business Development at Gold Financial Services, a mortgage brokerage firm based in Central Texas. He also founded the Cedric Benson Foundation, a charity for low-income families he also called NUFCED, which stands for Nurturing Underprivileged Families Cultivating Educational Development. 

According to the NUFCED website, the charity sponsors free youth camps, provides educational resources, and encourages and informs participants to become more aware of their civil rights. "Cedric's mission to inform and educate the underprivileged youth of Texas lives on through these programs and NUFCED's sponsorship," says the website. The camps combine football coaching with instruction on various issues concerning civil rights, which became a passion of Benson's after his retirement from football. NUFCED is still active to this day and "works to continue [its] founder's legacy of community development, support and engagement." Thus Cedric Benson's memory lives on as a positive force in the Central Texas community and beyond.