Anthony Carter's son is his No. 1 priority
Former U-M football star spends days caring for Anthony Jr.
by Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press, October 12,
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The legs look the same as they always did. Bony, skinny,
Michigan will honor three-time All-America
receiver Anthony Carter at halftime of its 3:30 p.m. game
against Penn State today. Carter also will sign autographs at
the WJR motor home at Crisler Arena from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Donations to the Anthony Carter Jr. Cerebral Palsy Foundation
can be made there.
They still look like they can barely support an entire body.
Except now there are four of them, and two of them can't
support an entire body.
Inch for inch, pound for pound, Anthony Carter's legs
accomplished as much as any other pair in college football
Now they have a matching pair. Anthony Carter Jr. was born
with his father's legs but none of his physical ability.
Anthony Jr. has cerebral palsy, a result of childbirth trauma
that has left him in a wheelchair. He spends his nights lying
on his father's lap as they watch television.
"Say hi, Anthony!" the man tells the 7-year-old. "Say hi!"
Anthony Carter Jr. can't say "hi." He is unable to breathe
without the help of an artificial trachea in his neck, unable
to eat without a feeding tube through his stomach, unable to
walk at all.
When Anthony Jr. was born, Anthony Sr. got the following news
from one of the nurses: "He's a vegetable."
Those are the words she used.
"Can you believe that?" asked Anthony's wife, Kim, who almost
died during the childbirth.
These days, people don't use those words. But they often think
it as they approach the kid in the wheelchair.
"People will come right up to you and look at him and start
asking questions," Kim said. "They're not being nice. They're
just being nosy."
Anthony Sr. said he doesn't let that bother him. He is used to
being recognized by strangers. It still happens a lot -- in
his home state of Florida; in Minnesota, where he starred in
the NFL; and, more than anywhere else, in Michigan, where he
remains one of the most popular Wolverines ever, 20 years
after he left school.
People look at his face. Then they look at his legs. Then,
slowly, they walk over to him and ask . . .
"Are you Anthony Carter?"
And he looks at them and says, "No."
And sometimes he adds, "People tell me I look like him,
Eventually, he tells them that he was just kidding, ha ha ha
ha, yes, he really is Anthony Carter. Usually.
Carter never has liked the attention of strangers. This has
been clear for more than two decades. He never liked it as a
three-time All-America receiver at Michigan, where his
teammates called him "The Hermit." He never liked it as Pro
Bowl receiver in the NFL, where he avoided reporters as deftly
as he avoided defensive backs.
Michigan will honor Carter today at Michigan Stadium for his
recent induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, and
the school's public relations staff had better keep an eye on
him. Ask him to step onto a field in front of 110,000 people
-- without a football helmet to hide under -- and Anthony
Carter might bolt.
So the shyness is part of it, part of why he says he isn't
Anthony Carter. There is something else, too, though. His days
and nights are dominated by Anthony Jr., which means they are
dominated by a disease that causes damage to the body and the
brain . . . and, well, there must be days when he doesn't feel
like Anthony Carter at all.
"When I see a highlight or something, I can't even believe
it's me," Carter said. "How did I do it? How did it happen?
How could somebody do something like that? But that's me.
That's me doing it."
Lloyd Carr couldn't believe it either. The year was 1980, and
Carr had just been hired as a U-M assistant coach. He said he
"could not believe" what this 5-foot-11, 160-pound sophomore
receiver could do.
In the 22 years since, Carr has moved up to head coach and
seen many great players come through Ann Arbor, including
Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson.
But he has never seen anybody like Carter.
"He is, in my judgment, certainly the most exciting football
player that I've ever seen," Carr said. "I mean, Anthony
Carter had the ability that every time the ball was in the air
towards him, everybody got to their feet, because they knew if
they sat there they might miss something spectacular.
"Woodson was a great football player, and so was Desmond. But
Anthony was just different. Anybody who saw him play. . . . He
just made so many spectacular plays."
The first time he touched the ball as a freshman at Suncoast
High in Riviera Beach, Fla., he returned a kickoff 87 yards
for a touchdown. First time at Michigan, same deal: punt
return, 78 yards, touchdown.
When Carter arrived at U-M, Dick Rifenburg held the school
record with 16 career touchdown catches. Carter had 14 in his
sophomore year alone and 37 in his career. When he left
school, Carter owned every significant school receiving record
and several NCAA records.
"He was just so much better than everybody else and so
special, everyone knew it," said John Wangler, Michigan's
quarterback in Carter's first two years. "It wasn't even an
issue. He was that much better than everybody else."
In four years at Michigan, Carter averaged 17.4 yards every
time he touched the ball. That's the best mark for a full
career in college football history.
But these are just numbers, of course, and they don't fully
describe what it was like to watch Anthony Carter catch a pass
and dart every which way he could, past helpless defenders and
into the end zone.
"The thing about Anthony is that he had the same speed
sideways that he did going straight ahead," Wangler said. "A
lot of guys say they run a 4.4" 40-yard dash. "Anthony ran a
Anthony Jr. is 7 years old, about the same age his dad was
before his athletic ability drew him out of the crowd.
Anthony Jr. is 4-feet-4 and 50 pounds and confined to a
wheelchair. He rarely leaves the house.
"Every dad wants to see their son probably as a replica of
himself," Kim said. "That part of it, the running, the ability
to do the small things, makes a difference."
Anthony Sr. said that when he looks close enough, he does see
a replica of himself.
"I see a lot of me in some of the things he does," he said.
"Even though he's in this situation, he has a lot of me in
him. That makes me feel good.
"He wakes up in the morning, and he's got an attitude. I do
that. You wake up mad. What are you mad at? I don't know. I'm
mad at something.
"He's always smiling; I'm always smiling, whether something
bad happens to me or something good happens to me. And the
legs, no question about that. "
In his 7 years, Anthony Jr. has undergone eight major
surgeries. He had two hospital stays this year that each
lasted almost a month.
One medication gave him liver problems, so he took something
to protect his liver. The medication attacked his pancreas
instead. He was 35 pounds at the time, but "his stomach blew
up," Kim said, to the point that he had a 60-inch waist. He
was on life support for two weeks.
"We almost lost him," Kim said.
The Carters are in the process of starting the Anthony Carter
Jr. Cerebral Palsy Foundation to help children with the
condition. They want to raise money to help families deal with
costs that insurance won't cover.
Those costs can be exorbitant. Many children require in-home
nurses, and insurance companies usually cap the number of
nurse-hours that are covered.
For families who want 11 hours of daily nurse care, as Anthony
Jr. has, it can cost $100,000 out-of-pocket every year. Then
there are physical therapy, equipment and nutrition costs.
Without a nurse, parents become de facto nurses, spending
entire days at home caring for their children,
At night, Anthony and Kim share their king-size bed with
Anthony Jr. Somebody must be with Anthony Jr. because he is
hooked up to a humidifier at night, and when he rolls over in
his sleep the tubes restrict his breathing. And then he
coughs, waking up Anthony or Kim, who help him get comfortable
and try to go back to sleep. So they don't sleep much.
Anthony Jr. also requires trachea treatment at 7 a.m., 10
a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
He takes medication or food (through his stomach) at 7 a.m., 8
a.m., 8:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m.
and 10 p.m.
Anthony Jr. was recently diagnosed with methicillin resistant
staphylococcus aureus, a bacterial infection that attacks the
body. It makes it difficult for the immune system to respond
to certain medications.
That's a major problem because he takes stomach medicine,
sinus medicine, a mixture of liquids to improve his breathing,
Valium, iron pills, antibiotics for an ear infection, another
sinus medicine and seizure medicine.
"He gets a lot," Kim said. "You wonder if his insides are all
If not, you would never know it, because this is the most
amazing part: Anthony Carter Jr. might look like he should be
pitied, and he goes to the hospital more than some doctors,
but he does not pity himself.
One nurse, who entered the profession for the challenges,
worked with Anthony Jr. for a week before quitting.
"She said she wanted to help somebody else," Kim said. "She
said Anthony Jr. was 'too happy.' "
It's true. He has an excited look on his face most of the
time. You get the sense he would probably giggle if only he
Carter said he was prepared to deal with Anthony Jr.'s
maladies because of his trips to hospitals as an NFL player.
Preparing for the emotional trauma was much harder, but
unfortunately he had ample training.
Carter's younger sister, Corrine, died of AIDS in 1997. His
first wife, Ortancis, died of cancer two years before that.
Anthony helps raise Ortancis's daughter, Sierra. (He also has
a 21-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. Kim has a
son, Keith, from her first marriage; Keith lived with Anthony
and Kim before moving back to Michigan this year.)
Carter's agent, Bob Woolf, died in the middle of his career.
Carter never replaced him.
"It's tough, it's definitely tough," Carter said. "I've been
to a lot of funerals."
In the autumn of 1979, as a freshman at Michigan, Carter was
an instant success -- on the field, with fans, with his
"You never read about him doing anything out of the ordinary,"
said his former coach, Bo Schembechler. "He was not a big
social guy. He was never late for meetings. A very reliable
He wasn't always that way.
"I've had my bad time in my past, in junior high," Carter
said. "I was always in trouble, got suspended from school,
repeated eighth grade. I was always suspended, and when you're
suspended, you're not in school and can't get grades.
"I wasn't like some football players who gets all the negative
headlines. But at the same time, to myself, those were
headlines. Everybody knew me, everybody knew how bad I was,
everybody knew I repeated eighth grade. Everybody in my
To the outside, he was seen only as a football player, but
that was largely his choice. He could have said, "Hey, I'm not
just a guy who scores touchdowns," but what he really wanted
to do was disappear.
This is the kid who sat in his living room while the coach
from Texas tried to pressure him into going to his school. Fed
up, Anthony excused himself, walked into another room, climbed
out the window and walked down the street to a convenience
store. He dialed home from a pay phone.
"Mom, I'm at the store," he said, "and I'm not coming back."
Communication, Anthony Carter-style.
"He was so quiet and so mysterious," Wangler said. "He never
really opened up that much. People saw him on the football
field, and then he was gone."
They thought they knew him. Even if they knew he was a
recluse, they thought they knew him. Hey, there's Anthony
Carter, No. 1, I love that guy, let's go say hi . . . excuse
me, are you Anthony Carter?
No. People tell me I look like him, though. And then a smile
and an admission of the truth.
"I think I did a wonderful job of handling a lot of stuff
basically on my own," Carter said. "I didn't let anybody get
close to me. I'll be that way until I die. I keep a lot of
stuff inside. I don't know if that's good or bad, but I'm 42,
and so far, so good."
When Carter left Michigan in 1982, the NFL was in the middle
of a bidding war with the upstart United States Football
League. Carter benefited from the squabble; he signed a
four-year, $2.1-million contract with the USFL's Michigan
It was nothing compared to the huge signing bonuses tossed
around today, but it was far more than he ever thought he
would see in his lifetime.
Carter had it all: irrepressible talent, youth, fame, wealth.
He moved his mother, Manita, out of the little ranch house in
which she had raised eight children. According to the
sports-as-the-American-dream theory, he had finally made it.
Not so simple. Carter found out what many athletes discover:
You don't change from a poor kid to a rich kid.
Rich kids are surrounded by other rich kids. Carter was a poor
kid who suddenly had money, and everybody knew it. Even some
people who had never been his friends.
"You would just see them always hanging around, wanting to
know: Where's he at? What's he doing?" Manita Carter recalled.
"People who didn't never come around before."
Carter was never inclined to tell anyone where he would be or
what he was doing, let alone strangers. And if he kept to
himself as a high school star, nobody thought much of it. But
now all sorts of people stepped into his life, uninvited.
"True, true," Anthony Sr. said. "And a lot of them aren't
around today. But that's fine, too."
Carter did not totally buy into his own celebrity. In his
mind, he was still the kid who got left back in eighth grade.
"I just played to stay out of trouble," he said. "I didn't
mean for all this stuff to happen. I could have done without
To others, Carter was defined by his athletic abilities as
much as his son one day would be defined by his physical
He left Michigan after the fall semester of his senior year
for the USFL, which played a spring season. But he was
determined to earn the 30 credits he needed to finish his
degree. He enrolled in classes in Ann Arbor, ready to be a
"I went back and I'm sitting in class and everyone's like,
what the heck's he doing?" Carter recalled. "You're making all
this money. What are you doing here? You go to school to make
money, and you're already making it.
"So I left. That was dumb. I wish I hadn't done that."
Two decades later, Carter still needs those 30 credits --
really needs them. Neither he nor Kim is working at the
moment, but with the high costs of raising a child with
cerebral palsy, it's easy to wonder how long that can last.
Carter said he will earn the credits, but it's unclear if he
will do it in Florida, where he lives now, or Michigan.
"I'd like to see him up here," Schembechler said from Ann
Arbor. "He left a full semester early when he signed with the
Panthers. So he doesn't have his degree yet, and I'd like to
see him get that. But we can't do it unless we can take care
of his young son."
Carter's future has not been this uncertain since before he
picked up a football for the first time. Football transformed
him from a poor, unknown kid to a wealthy, famous man. It took
him away from Riviera Beach.
Now he spends his nights 15 minutes away from the house where
he grew up, holding 7-year-old Anthony Jr. He has gone from a
blur on the field to alone on his couch.
Carter said he is worried about a 15-year-old Anthony Jr., a
25-year-old Anthony Jr. What happens then?
"He's not going to complain to you," Schembechler said. "He's
not that kind. But when I call him, a lot of times it's on his
cell phone and he is in the hospital. . . . I still am
concerned about what is going to happen because I would like
to get him set doing something that he likes to do.
"He has this burden, and he's done a good job with it and
handled it well. But sooner or later we're going to have to
get him something permanent. That's my concern."
If that's Carter's concern, he won't let on. He said he
doesn't share his emotions with anybody, not even his wife. In
that sense, he is a lot like Anthony Jr. -- a kid who, like
his dad, attracts a crowd because of his physical ability.
They look at his face, off-center and wide-eyed. They look at
those skinny legs, dangling from the wheelchair.
And they ask: That's Anthony Carter's son?
Yes. Nobody says he looks like him, though.
When Carter was inducted into the College Football Hall of
Fame this summer, he began his induction speech by thanking
the doubters. At 5-feet-11, 160 pounds, Carter had his share
of nonbelievers when he left Florida for Michigan. He thanked
the doubters for giving him the motivation to succeed.
That's how he began. This is how he ended:
"In college, you were taught to set goals: to beat Michigan
State, to beat Notre Dame, to beat Ohio State. You want to go
to the Rose Bowl; you want to win the Rose Bowl; you want to
"You want to be this, you want to be that.
"I have set another goal for myself. That goal is to be able
to see my son walk, to be able to play catch with him. That is
the highest goal that I could ever set in my life. . . .
(When) that day happens, my life will definitely be complete.
. . .
"I've been blessed with the athletic ability to play at the
highest level, and I can see him in me. He has the willpower
to fight this thing, and I'll be right there with him."
It's not the speech he expected to give 20 years ago, but it
was the only speech he could give now. You never know when you
will be forced to run through life sideways.
Contact MICHAEL ROSENBERG at 313-222-6052 or