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Death Wish For Bender
Leon Bender's life was busting out with promise. Already a husband and father, he waited anxiously for the start of his playing career in the National Football League. Now those dreams are shattered forever.

Bender, a Washington State defensive tackle chosen by the Raiders with the 31st pick in April's NFL draft, was found dead on May 30, 1998 in the home of Terry Bolar in Marietta, Ga. The Oakland rookie was visiting Bolar, an associate of Eugene Parker, Bender's agent. After Bolar discovered Bender's body in the bathroom, the lineman was rushed to a local hospital where attempts to revive him failed. The following day, a preliminary autopsy was inconclusive and further tests were expected to take up to three months, according to published reports.

The Cobb County (Ga.) medical examiner's office confirmed that a seizure disorder was the cause of death on June 10. Mike Cosper, a forensic investigator in the medical examiner's office, told reporters that the autopsy revealed no drugs or alcohol in Bender's system at the time of death. Police previously ruled out foul play.

Bender had been treated for epilepsy, a disorder of certain cells in the brain, since childhood. The 22-year-old is survived by his wife Liza and 2-year-old daughter Imani.

The Raiders were aware of Bender's medical history when they selected him with the first pick of the second round of the NFL draft on April 18. He had at least one seizure while attending Santana High School, near San Diego.

Bender signed a $3.45 million contract with Oakland on May 12. The deal included a $1.2 million signing bonus, which he received before his death. The Raiders drafted the 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman with the compensatory pick they received after franchise player Chester McGlockton signed with Kansas City.

Oakland scouts were high on Bender's potential because of his athleticism and size. "It's a tragic loss for us," Raiders coach Jon Gruden told reporters. "He was a guy that we figured on being a big part of this season and seasons beyond."

As a senior, Bender contributed 48 tackles including three sacks with six pass deflections in helping Washington State win the 1997 Pacific 10 Conference championship and earn its first trip to the Rose Bowl in 67 years.

Published: 6-10-98


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