Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud powered his team to another win on Sunday, Nov. 12. With under two minutes left and Houston clinging to a 27-24 lead, Stroud led the Texans on a successful scoring drive, setting them up for a game-winning 38-yard field goal by kicker Matt Ammendola.
It was the second week in a row that he’s rallied the Texans to a last-minute win; he was similarly impressive on Nov. 5, against the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Texans down 37-33 and just 16 seconds to go, Stroud located wide receiver Tank Dell for a huge gain. And then — with just 0:10 remaining — he hurled the ball to the end zone, where Dell leapt into the air for an 11-yard touchdown. The Texans held on to win, 39-37.
C.J. Stroud threw for five touchdowns (tying a rookie record) and 470 yards — the most ever by a rookie quarterback in one game. His 147.8 passer rating was the highest by a first-year QB in NFL history. It was a star-making performance. But when Stroud took the podium to address reporters after the game, he didn’t start with any of that. His mind was on something else, namely his father.
Coleridge Bernard Stroud III pled guilty in 2015 to charges of carjacking, kidnapping, robbery and misdemeanor sexual battery after he broke into a woman’s parked car, demanded she take him to a nearby house to buy drugs and touched her between her legs (over her clothes), then (after she escaped) led police on a chase that ended with him crashing the stolen vehicle into a pole and jumping into San Diego Bay.
According to Sports Illustrated, the elder Stroud explained to the judge in 2018 that it had been 20 years since his last conviction. He said he’d spiraled after the end of his marriage in 2012 and had begun using drugs again, after two decades of sobriety. The appeal was denied. He got 38 years to life.
He’s still serving that sentence — handed down partially because of California’s three-strikes law. He and his son still talk by phone, though. “I got to talk to my dad a little bit today, and I’m praying to God that something can happen that he can get out and cone to one of these games, man,” C.J. Stroud said Nov. 5. “I didn’t want to make this public man, but our criminal justice system isn’t right. It’s something that I probably need to be a little more vocal about because what he’s going through is not right.”
Perhaps sensing the inevitable questions that would come — about why his father did what he did, about whether he even deserves to be freed — Stroud broadened his appeal. He stated that “it’s not just my dad’s situation. But the whole criminal justice system is corrupt. I’ve been watching videos, and in Mississippi some of the prisons have rats and roaches and things like that. And don’t get me wrong: criminals, they should do their time and everything like that, but they’re still humans, you know?”
Stroud is shining a light on a systemic problem. Aside from the obvious issues around California’s “three-strikes” law (which the Justice Department found led to increased jury trials and thus increased the pretrial prison population), he’s right about prison conditions. Inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman reported that it was common to see rats and roaches there; state health inspections found repeated problems with broken toilets and moldy showers. 300 deaths happened there in just three years.
In Louisiana, a judge ruled this month that the state penitentiary in Angola violated the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Conditions there included brutal beatings by guards and water that was unsafe to drink.) And in Texas, the state pen at Huntsville forces inmates to endure often-hellish summer conditions without air conditioning.
Even the Harris County Jail has come under scrutiny. It’s failed two inspections in the past year, and in August the non-partisan newsroom Houston Landing found that the jail remains out of compliance with the state’s minimum safety standards. Dozens of people were jailed while waiting to be processed in holding cells for over 48 hours — a violation of state code. 27 people died while in the jail last year; this year the number is at least 15. Hopefully Stroud’s statements will spur systemic change.