Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from Racquel Blanks, the mother of Andre Rison’s son.
Ex-Michigan State University football star Andre Rison has endured plenty of tough hits, both on and off the field.
But being labeled a bad dad, he says, is a crushing blow he just can’t shake off.
After years of keeping silent, Rison spoke out for the first time this week about an ongoing child support case that he believes has falsely portrayed him as a man who walked away from a son when, he says, the opposite is true. Rison’s name made national headlines on Tuesday after a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Rison, who is accused of violating his probation in a child support case by failing to keep up with $1,000-monthly payments and using marijuana.
As for the pot-use claims, Rison said he has used marijuana candy to deal with post-NFL injuries, stressing: “I hurt every day.”
As for the child support claims, the retired NFL-er said he’s been a good father to the son who is at the center of it all — big-time football recruit Hunter Rison, a senior at Ann Arbor Skyline High School who has committed to MSU after years of getting coached by his dad.
“He lives under my roof. I take care of him. I coach his football team. … We’ve become the best of friends,” Rison, 49, told the Free Press in an exclusive interview Wednesday, calling his latest legal troubles “a big nasty hurdle.”
“I’m just tired. Here I am, being looked at like a hardcore criminal. … I’m trying to do the right thing. My mistake was made years ago, and I’m still under this microscope,” Rison said. “It’s very frustrating.”
The woman owed the child support, 47-year-old Racquel Blanks, who works in human resources for an aerospace company in Arizona, tells a different story. She claims Rison chose to stay out Hunter’s life for years and didn’t start paying child support until he was indicted on federal criminal charges in 2011 of owing her more than $300,000. Rison pleaded guilty in the case. In 2013, he was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 a month to pay off a $323,000 balance.
“There have never been any voluntary payments from him,” Blanks told the Free Press today, stressing:
“I did not sue this man.I This is something that he allowed to happen. He agreed to pay this restitution of $1,000 a month. He told me he was going to continue to pay that and be right — and he didn’t. He didn’t follow through … He needs to stop going to people and making himself out to be a victim when he’s not.”
Rison is not new to controversy. The Flint native’s personal life has landed him in the spotlight many times over the last three decades, during which he was a Spartan standout, a five-time Pro Bowler and star wide receiver for seven NFL teams. But off the field he battled an image problem.
In 1994, while playing for the Atlanta Falcons, his then celebrity-girlfriend Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes of TLC burned down his mansion. Years later came an ESPN documentary titled “Broke,” which featured athletes who had squandered their wealth, including Rison, who admitted in the documentary that he spent a million dollars on jewelry. Child support issues followed. In 2007 he declared bankruptcy.
In 2011 came the indictment that continues to haunt him.
It involved an Arizona woman who had a son with Rison when he played for the Kansas City Chiefs. That son was Hunter, who according to Rison spent his childhood years with his mother and would not develop a close relationship with his father until he was about 12. According to Rison, when Hunter was starting junior high, the boy’s mother had learned about Rison’s football camps and sent him a private message on Facebook one day asking him, “How would you like to coach your own son?”
Rison said he jumped at the chance and spent the next few years connecting with his son, who would eventually move to Michigan and live with him, his wife Lisa and their four daughters. Rison also has three grown sons, whom he says he has a good relationship with, and two grandchildren.
“I take care of all my kids. Everybody knows it,” said Rison, adding he and Hunter have been building a strong relationship since they connected four years ago. “I apologized and I let him know that for a long time, ‘I didn’t know where you were,’ ” Rison said. “Now, we’re flying on all cylinders.”
But his child payment case lingers. In 2013, a federal judge in Arizona sentenced Rison to five years probation and ordered him to pay Hunter’s mother more than $300,000 in restitution for back child support to cover the years that Rison wasn’t in the boy’s life. The initial payments were to be $2,358 a month, but they were later dropped to $1,000 a month.
According to court records, Rison has so far paid the woman roughly $35,000, records show. His last payment was made on April 4, for $500.
Rison also tested positive for marijuana use three times, which was a probation violation, records show.
Rison said he did not use marijuana for recreation purposes, but rather for pain treatment stemming from all the injuries he sustained as a football player.
“I hurt every day,” he said. “I’ve got arthritis. I’ve got broken bones, bone spurs in my neck. I could drink it away or take pain pills. My choice was marijuana candy. I’m not a pill popper”
With an arrest warrant looming over his head, Rison said he will surrender and that he wants to do the right thing. He wants to explain to the judge that he no longer makes the same kind of money he did when he was an NFL player, and that he can’t afford the $1,000 monthly payments. He said he currently makes $9,000 a year as an assistant coach at Skyline, and collects another $3,300 in monthly disability benefits from the NFL for injuries he sustained.
“Give me something that’s feasible,” Rison said. “If anytime I’ve missed, it’s because we had to pay bills. Unfortunately, I missed a couple times and this is the ramification for it.”
Rison’s wife, Lisa, said her husband is a good man who is committed to all of his kids.
“I just keep telling myself that this is going to be OK,” said Lisa Rison, who described the ex-football star as a great stay-at-home dad who spoils his kids and lays down the rules. “He holds down the house. He’s a fun dad. He’s strict. The girls love him. Hunter loves him. People love him.”
Contact Tresa Baldas: email@example.com.