Dennis Byrd, a former Jets defensive lineman best known for battling back from a serious spinal injury and recovering to walk again, has died at the age of 50.
Byrd was killed in a car crash in Claremore, Oklahoma, today. According to Fox 23, Byrd was driving down the highway when his vehicle was struck head on by another vehicle, which had crossed the center line. A 12-year-old passenger in Byrd’s vehicle was hospitalized, as was the 17-year-old boy driving the vehicle that hit Byrd’s vehicle. Byrd was pronounced dead at the scene.
A second-round draft pick of the Jets in 1989, Byrd played four NFL seasons before suffering a serious neck injury in a collision with a teammate. Byrd was paralyzed and his career was over, but after lengthy physical therapy he was able to walk again. At the Jets’ home opener in 1993, Byrd walked to the middle of the field to represent his team in the pregame coin toss, and there he was given the team’s Most Inspirational Player Award, which is now known as the Dennis Byrd Award.
In 2012, when the Jets retired Byrd’s No. 90 jersey, he said that in his retirement from football he had found joy in coaching youth sports and speaking on behalf of people with disabilities.
“I really have loved coaching football and working with kids, talking about the lessons I’ve learned as an athlete and the journey as someone with a disability,” Byrd said then. “Football has always been, for me, a cornerpost of strength and a way to accomplish things in life, whether it’s on the field or just in maintaining a quality of life. All those lessons — dedication, perseverance, teamwork — they all dovetail nicely into living a blessed life.”