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Jets' Robby Anderson says 'forever' night in jail changed his life

Jets receiver Robby Anderson spends a lot of time in the offseason at the home of his uncle, Daniel Harris. Courtesy Daniel Harris

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Robby Anderson said the low point was the night he spent in jail. It was Jan. 19, and he had just been arrested for the second time in eight months -- salacious allegations that would become huge headlines in the New York tabloids. He spent 12 hours in the Broward County jail, not far from his home in Sunrise, Florida.

"It felt like forever," he told ESPN this week.

Anderson was coming off a breakout season as a wide receiver for the New York Jets, and he was wondering if he had blown his chance for a long, prosperous career. He was embarrassed, knowing his family -- and the world -- soon would learn the details. He faced six charges, including two felonies -- fleeing and eluding police and threatening a public servant or family member. The police report quoted Anderson as making crude comments about the arresting officer's wife, saying he threatened to sexually assault her -- a charge that was later dismissed.

"It was hard being in the county jail where I'm from and knowing that people I've grown up with have lost their life to that, and knowing I'm better than that, even though I knew the allegations weren't true," Anderson said. "Just the representation of my family and myself and my team, and what I'm hoping to achieve, it was a humbling experience."

The 25-year-old from Sunrise hopes his endless night will be remembered as the dark time before the dawn. This week, the NFL announced it would not suspend Anderson for violating the personal-conduct policy. (He received an undisclosed fine.) His two cases have been adjudicated, with only one charge sticking: a no-contest plea for reckless driving, a misdemeanor. He received six months probation. The previous incident involved a resisting-arrest charge at a music festival in Miami Beach, but that was dropped.

Essentially, Anderson is in the clear. He learned a hard lesson and has vowed to make changes in his life.

"I worked hard my whole life to be something and see new things and better places, and be great -- build a legacy and do amazing things," he said. "I don't want to be stuck or slowed down and fall into bad situations. I don't want to be known or remembered as somebody that went to jail and his career went downhill. I refuse to let that happen to me ever again. Period."

It has been an uneven journey for Anderson, who was out of college football for a year because bad grades got him thrown out of Temple University. In February, ESPN reported he had been charged with traffic-related violations on 10 different occasions in Broward and Orange counties since 2014, according to Florida court records. That includes five speeding tickets, with two in a 15-day span in the spring of 2017. He was clocked at 105 mph before his most recent arrest in January.

"He has a lead foot," said Anderson's uncle, Daniel Harris. "He has to slow down."

Harris, who called himself a surrogate father to Anderson, has taken steps to help his nephew stay out of trouble. Harris said he drives Anderson around town whenever he can. If he's not available, Harris will call on one of his friends, who works in security, to chauffeur Anderson to places in South Florida.

Anderson spends a lot of time at his uncle's house, only five minutes away from his mother's home. As a kid, he used to sleep a lot on his uncle's couch. During the run-up to training camp in July, he spent a month at his uncle's place. The objective was to keep him safe and sound before he left for New Jersey.

"I told him my door closes at 11 o'clock, so don't come walking in at midnight because the door will be closed," said Harris, adding that he's a "security blanket" for Anderson. "The goal was to get him on the right track."

Harris, who played running back at Southern Utah, said he was so infuriated by Anderson's second arrest that he needed a couple of days to cool off before seeing him. When he did, he gave his nephew a stern lecture on how he was throwing away his career. He made Anderson apologize to his cousins, many of whom look up to him.

"He cried," Harris said. "He had tears in his eyes."

Harris said Anderson was never in trouble as a kid. When Anderson was dismissed from Temple, he went to his uncle's house and they stayed up until 2 a.m. one night, having a heart-to-heart. Harris implored him to get his grades up and get back into school, which he did. He wound up signing with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2016, blossoming last season with 63 catches, 941 yards and seven touchdowns.

Two weeks after the season, Anderson was in trouble, his reputation in tatters.

"I think that last arrest pretty much woke him up," Harris said. "It got his attention as far as what could've happened as far as playing in the NFL. I think he realized his career could be over in an instant."

Anderson said he has grown as a person, claiming he has learned to avoid bad situations. He's proud of where he grew up, but he also realizes he must resist the pull of his old neighborhood because of potential trouble.

"I really think about things before I do them," he said. "No discredit from where I come from, but I made it out of certain things. Not everything deserves your attention. Sometimes it's the simple thing of involving yourself in other people's problems. It kind of pulls you back. As a man, I don't deserve to keep getting tugged and pulled. But I don't want to blame anything on anybody.

"I hate to say it, but sometimes things happen for mysterious reasons and ways."