Ramson started out his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978, went on to the 49ers in 1979, and played tight end at Candlestick from 1979 to 1983. He started using cocaine as a rookie, and even before he’d won a Super Bowl, Ramson was using often: in fact, he’s said to have celebrated victories by using, and even used right before the 1982 Super Bowl. He went on to the Bills, then went back to his hometown of Sacramento in 1986 after his NFL career ended. In the state capitol, Ramson drifted downward: his wife left with their two kids, he was beaten and shot. In 1991 he landed in a drug counseling program after a conviction for robbing ATM users. He’d been convicted of three previous felonies when, in 1993, he got a 31-month prison term term in Vacaville for shoplifting rum and whiskey. He hadn’t sold his Super Bowl ring though, giving it to a friend for safekeeping.
In 1996, after getting out of jail, he said he was a reformed man, using religion and a rigorous workout regime to re-establish his life. Ramson said Bill Walsh had contacted him in jail to try to help him recover: “Walsh started writing to me. I was shocked. Here I am in the state penitentiary, and they slide this letter under the door. I picked it up and read Bill Walsh. I didn’t believe it. Bill Walsh could have overlooked me, but he gave me a lot of encouragement and inspiration. He showed more concern than my own brother, who didn’t talk to me for years because he was embarrassed by me.”
Walsh explained: “Part of it, no doubt, was that my conscience was bothering me, because I wasn’t able to help him earlier. The problem was that back then none of us understood much about cocaine or could identify the warning signs. And, of course, you get caught up in the winning….”
But the reformed Ramson of 1996 didn’t last: he started mixing cocaine, alcohol, and food, using petty theft and old NFL compensation checks to stay afloat, living in rented hotels. When Ramson got arrested in 1999 he was facing the three strikes law, which meant 35 to life for his shoplifting charge. Looking back in 2003, he said: “I called Bubba Paris, a close friend of mine. He told me to go back to my cell and pray for a miracle. A miracle started to happen. People who believed in me — I don’t even know what they believed in about me — came forward.
“Bubba came to the court and talked to the judge for 45 minutes at one of my hearings. People like Bill Walsh, Keena Turner, Eric Wright wrote letters saying this guy was worth saving and to give him another chance. The DA and the judge decided to give me one last chance. They took away the three strikes and gave me 28 months with half (off for good behavior).
“With all those people coming forward for me, I felt all that care. A light came on for me. I said, ‘There’s something in me. I’ve got to find it.’ So I decided I was going into treatment when I got out of prison. Walden House of San Francisco took me in.”
As of 2003, he described his occupations like this: “I’m the project administrator at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in the Western Addition of San Francisco. I have two projects: a truancy component throughout the San Francisco School District, and an after-school program positioned at four church sites in San Francisco.
And I started an organization called Pros and Cons for Kids. I take pro athletes and ex-convicts to speak to groups and to schools about drug and alcohol issues, anger management, and making healthy choices.”
You can read a bit more about Ramson here.