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Reflections on an emotional story about a football star’s tragic downfall

Colt Brennan
Colt Brennan poses for a photo on Waikiki Beach on Aug. 16, 2007.
(Lucy Pemoni / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, June 29. I’m Justin Ray.

Earlier this month, reporter Jeff Miller published a heartbreaking story about Colt Brennan, a star quarterback at the University of Hawaii whose career was hampered by substance abuse.

The story begins with a tragic scene involving his parents finding him intoxicated at the family home in the hills above Irvine on Mother’s Day. Then, Miller backs up to explain how Brennan was discovered by chance, leading to a successful football career that would lift Hawaii “to levels not seen before or since.” Finally, the story tracks his downward spiral and, eventually, his addiction-related death.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years and I’ve never had a story that got more reaction from everybody than this one,” Miller tells me. He’s heard from sports figures such as former star running back Marcus Lattimore, as well as addicts who use the story as a reminder to “get their act together.”

Miller says the story was the idea of Times Deputy Sports Editor Iliana Romero, who asked him to do a deeper retelling than the published obituaries. The resulting article puts a face to the fentanyl epidemic while laying out a gripping narrative, explaining how addiction has the ability to ravage a person’s life regardless of their potential. Miller followed up his original deep dive with a collection of powerful and sometimes emotional insights from those closest to Brennan about his struggles with addiction.

The story discusses Brennan’s highs and lows; on the latter point, Miller addresses a January 2004 fondling incident that heavily affected Brennan’s career and landed him in jail.

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“We wanted to obviously make reference to it and make sure people understood how serious it was. It wasn’t just a passing thing,” Miller says. “You want to tell that story, and you want to include that because of the impact it had on him.”

One detail that didn’t end up in the story was the only instance that Brennan’s parents lost their composure. Miller was watching a video that a group in Hawaii put together before the football player died, wishing him well and giving him support. His father began to cry. It was notable because Miller says interviews with Brennan’s parents weren’t as tear-filled as one might assume.

“I think what that came out of was the fact that as heartbroken and upset as they are about losing a child, they feel secure in the knowledge that they did all they could to help him. There are no regrets,” Miller says.

The most haunting part of the story has to be the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it involves an unexpected appearance of a Bob Marley song.

“I wrote it thinking ‘this might not even make it,’” Miller says. “It just hit everybody the right way, I guess. It’s one of those things where the reader can believe whatever they want. It just kind of makes you wonder, who knows, maybe there really was something in a higher power at work.”

You can read Miller’s full story here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

Why did so many unhoused people die while staying at an L.A. hotel?: At least eight people died while they were at the Airtel Plaza Hotel, according to data provided by the Los Angeles County coroner and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. During the pandemic, hundreds of homeless people have been housed at the hotel through Project Roomkey, a government program aimed at the vulnerable. What happened at the hotel is a reflection, in some ways, of the dire vulnerability of the people who went there, and the maladies and addictions that can be exacerbated by living on the streets. But the death toll also raises questions about whether providers could better protect people as they move from the streets into hotel rooms and other shelter. Los Angeles Times Subscriber Exclusive

YouTube Theater to launch this summer in Inglewood. YouTube, the Google-owned video streaming service, is lending its name to a 6,000-seat performance venue in Inglewood. YouTube Theater, opening in mid-summer near SoFi Stadium and American Airlines Plaza, will host live entertainment and include YouTube creator events, esports competitions, award shows, concerts and other events. In recent years, Google has expanded its presence in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

YouTube Theater
YouTube Theater, a live entertainment venue, will open in mid-summer in Inglewood.
(Hollywood Park)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California is set to extend eviction protections. Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders agreed to extend the financial aid until Sept. 30 and to cover 100% of the back rent owed by many low-income residents whose finances were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The additional time will also allow distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in rental assistance that has gone unclaimed since it was offered in March. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Facebook wins dismissal of U.S., states’ antitrust lawsuits. Facebook won a court ruling dismissing two monopoly lawsuits filed by the U.S. government that were attempting to break up the company. The judge said the Federal Trade Commission failed to clearly define the market and said its assertion about Facebook’s share of the market was “too speculative and conclusory to go forward.” The decision by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington on Monday sent Facebook shares soaring, pushing the company’s market value to more than $1 trillion. Bloomberg

3-year-old killed after accidentally shooting himself. A child died after accidentally shooting himself in the head at a Fresno home on Saturday, police said. At 8:30 a.m., police received a call for a gunshot wound. The boy was taken to Community Regional Medical Center and pronounced dead. Police say the gun used in the incident was registered. ABC 30

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

L.A. County urges everyone to wear masks indoors as Delta variant spreads. As we told you on Monday, the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading statewide. Now, the L.A. County Department of Public Health is recommending that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in public indoor spaces. Officials have said the variant does not pose a risk to vaccinated people, but there’s growing concern for those who have not been vaccinated and are at higher risk. Los Angeles Times

‘Long COVID’ is a risk for the unvaccinated. Many people who have had COVID-19 may find themselves contending with a baffling array of symptoms that don’t quite add up to COVID-19, but just won’t go away. It’s a condition that has come to be known as “long COVID,” also known as Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID, or PASC. It remains steeped in mystery. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

White people are leaving. Although California remains the most populous state, it was big news when 2020 census data revealed that the population declined for the first time in its history. A new report from the Brookings Institution goes further, explaining that without people of color, the drop would have been even more dramatic. Over the last decade, “California’s loss of 631,000 white residents was more than countered by gains of 850,000 people of color.” Additionally, the report finds that “all of U.S. population growth from 2016 to 2020 comes from gains in people of color.” Brookings Institution

KQED’s Pendarvis Harshaw wrote a powerful essay about the experiences that come with being a Black person in America. He describes seeing happy residents at Oakland’s official Juneteenth celebration. But the event was disrupted by a shooting, creating an awful experience: “This is what I’ve come to understand as the full spectrum of the Black experience in America. I’m used to going from celebrating to mourning,” Harshaw wrote. KQED

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Cloudy, 82. San Diego: Overcast, 71. San Francisco: Cloudy, 68. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 81. Fresno: Cloudy, 80. Sacramento: Sunny, 90.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Sally Currie:

I was walking on Union Street in Pasadena a couple of years ago when I stopped to admire a wall covered with purple morning glories in full bloom. A cheerful gardener approached me and asked, “You like the flowers?” When I replied in the affirmative he said, “Wait” and went and picked a handful of them and, bringing them to me on the sidewalk said, “Pretty flowers for a pretty lady.” I walked on with a melting heart!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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