In the wee hours of the morning on December 30th, 2019, elite student-athlete Bryce “Simba” Gowdy was struck and killed by a freight train in South Florida.
One day later, on New Year’s Eve 2019, the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Gowdy’s death a suicide.
He was 17 years old.
A highly-saught after college football recruit, Gowdy was one week away from moving to Atlanta at the time of his death, where he was set to join the Georgia Tech football team.
The news rocked his community in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Gowdy’s future, on the surface, was a bright one for a talented student-athlete with NFL aspirations: A charismatic 4-star wide receiver and leader of his high school football team, Gowdy signed a scholarship offer to attend Georgia Tech just two weeks before.
He received more than 30 scholarship offers, including from Oregon, Penn State, Syracuse, and West Virginia.
Family matters, can’t wait to get to the ATL soon! pic.twitter.com/mCw5esPWUj
— Bryce “Simba” Gowdy (@SkayeBryce) December 30, 2019
Gowdy’s life story – as a brother, son, community member, and football player – and struggles in his final days are the subject of a new ESPN documentary: Long Live Seven: The Bryce ‘Simba’ Gowdy Story, now streaming via The Undefeated on ESPN+.
Comprised of interviews and intimate footage captured on cell phones, Gowdy’s mother, Shibbon Mitchell, explains how she hopes sharing her son’s story helps save lives.
She describes her son’s vibrance, love for J. Cole, and meditating on the beach.
“Bryce controlled the vibe in the house a lot,” Mitchell explains in the film. “He also embraced it. He was like, ‘yeah, I’m the big brother. So I’m going to set the example for you.'”
She explains that her son was wrestling with a “survivor’s guilt” for “making it out” on a full-ride while the family struggled with homelessness and financial strain. The family was frequently living out of a car when Gowdy signed with Georgia Tech. He hid the family’s situation from his football teammates, who didn’t know he was living in a car.
Mitchell describes Gowdy as “all over the place” in the days before he took his life. On the day of Gowdy’s suicide, the family was in the car all day before checking into a hotel.
“He wasn’t acting like himself,” Gowdy’s brother explains.
Pain meets purpose
By channeling her grief into action, Mitchell is focused on telling her son’s story to further advocate for behavioral and mental health awareness in the Black community, including how local public mental health services failed the family when they needed it the most.
This one tears my heart out about the passing of Georgia Tech signee WR Bryce Gowdy. Such a warm hearted, energetic kid and he brings energy to any room. This isn't a business to a lot of us in recruiting. The relationships are real so this hurts. Simba ❤ pic.twitter.com/Yb3VO8QITt
— Michael Langston (@MichaelWarchant) December 30, 2019
In another heart-aching moment, Bryce explains via cell phone video why he gave himself the nickname “Simba” after his favorite movie, The Lion King.
“My real name is Simba. It is true to who I am – a young, lionhearted soul eager to be the best or king at everything I set my heart to do.”
On the football field, Gowdy was explosive.
Our thoughts are with the family, friends, and teammates of Bryce Gowdy. https://t.co/TO5lctENLe
— Georgia Tech (@GeorgiaTech) December 30, 2019
In the film, Rob Cassidy, who covers Florida and the national junior colleges for Rivals.com, puts it like this:
“Every tool a football coach could ever want was in Bryce Gowdy… He was fast. He turned on a dime. It would be like if you had a giant Cadalliac but it had a Ferrari motor in it and it could handle that. You don’t usually get both.”
Dak Prescott narrates the film, explaining his role in a statement: “The most important reason for me to be a part of this project is because Bryce has a legacy to continue to live on. His mom is doing a great job. With my platform, I just want to be able to help reach a kid out there that is going through what Bryce was experiencing, and to help save a life.”
For more information on Bryce “Simba” Gowdy and how to get involved, check out the mission and work of The Bryce Gowdy Foundation.
Long Live Seven: The Bryce “Simba” Story is a part of ESPN’s Black History Always platform with The Undefeated, an initiative launched in January 2021 to further explore the intersections of sports, race, and culture with original storytelling, all year long.
The network’s commitment pledges to highlight Black stories beyond the traditional Black History Month in February, further “leaning into” the work that The Undefeated already does.
Look for Black History Always content via The Undefeated on ESPN+.
For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or call 800-273-8255