New Showtime Doc Reveals Victor Cruz's Struggle with Father's Suicide

victor cruz - H 2015
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victor cruz - H 2015

The injured New York Giants wide receiver also weighs in on the NFL's domestic abuse scandals: "It gives us a bad rap as a league."

Victor Cruz is itching for a comeback. The New York Giants star wide receiver has not been on the field since last year when a torn tendon in his right knee ended his season in game six of the regular season. Now a strained calf muscle in the same leg — a result of overcompensation in the wake of the knee injury — has kept him on the sidelines through week eight of the current season.

And so the new Showtime documentary, I Am Giant: Victor Cruz, will not end with Cruz, 28, triumphantly returning to the Meadowlands; an MRI on his calf last week showed that he was not ready to resume practicing with the team.

Instead, the film, which began shooting in spring 2014 and bows Oct. 30, will chronicle Cruz’s improbable entry into the NFL (he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010), his personal travails (twice expelled from the University of Massachusetts for sub par grades) and the heartbreaking loss of his father to suicide in 2007. 

Sitting at a conference table at New York’s Crosby Hotel on a recent Monday evening, Cruz flashes the warm grin that has earned him multiple endorsement deals (Campbell’s soup, Gillette, McDonald’s, Rocawear, Foot Locker). And while he admits that being sidelined has been "extremely frustrating," he insists he will return this season. "My injury isn’t season threatening," he says.

The Showtime documentary is from Gotham Chopra (who directed Kobe Bryant's Muse) and also is co-produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter's Spring Hill Productions. Cruz reached out to Chopra after seeing the Bryant film.

"I think he came ready to confess," said Chopra, who conducted the on-camera interviews with Cruz.

Cruz was also eager for a diversion during his injury plagued down time. And he notes that James, who has worked through injuries of his own, advised him to approach his rehab the same way he approaches football.

"He taught me to stick to it," says Cruz. "Understand your work ethic on the field and apply that same work ethic to your rehab. Apply that same diligence and discipline to your rehab and you’ll be fine. That meant a lot coming from him."

In the film, Cruz talks openly about the death of his father, Mike Walker, a retired Paterson, New Jersey firefighter. 

"I’ve never spoken about that to anyone. At least, not that in-depth. I’ve always kept that kind of bottled up." 

In the film, Cruz breaks down when talking about is father, a Paterson, New Jersey firefighter. And Chopra can he heard calling for a break in filming. The cameras then follow Cruz out of the interview room and into the arms of his longtime partner and fianceeElaina Watley. He said he didn't realize the camera had followed him. And he said that avoiding confronting his feelings about his father's death, "kept a chip on my shoulder. It kept that aggression. That question mark about it kept me going, kept me focused on my craft. This thing that’s been in my mind and in my heart for all these years, finally getting it out, it felt like a big boulder was off my back."

Of course aggression is hardwired into football. And recent off-field incidents have exposed the NFL's weakness in dealing with domestic violence among its players. Cruz notes - correctly- that the dark tends to draw headlines.

"Aaron Rogers may go to 12 schools this month alone. None of that will be on TV," he says. "It’s only seen when guys do wrong, right? And I think it gives us a bad rap as a league, because when parents or kids turn on SportsCenter, all they see is the negative things. Obviously we also have to help ourselves and not put ourselves in the positions to be put on the news in a negative way. But it doesn't help us."