When cocaine boomed onto the American party scene in the 1980s, it was called “the rich man’s drug.” It was often considered socially acceptable among elite social groups. So, when young athletes, who made boatloads of money and had quick rises to fame, are introduced to cocaine’s seductive nature, it can become the perfect recipe for love.
Some members of this list, however, were trapped by the powder long before they reached stardom, often showing signs of this pattern of behavior during their teens or in college. This often comes in to consideration in today’s sports when teams consider who they will bring onto their team. Some believe that with the right mentoring, when transitioning into a lifestyle that contains that options that go with being a professional athlete, that the result can be changed.
The outcome of the story varies for each player. Many players managed to dig deep and find a way to overcome the struggles of addiction and have even been able to contribute to helping others get clean. However, far too often, the story has ended with a player’s career in the dust. Sadly, in some of the more extreme cases, lives were cut short.
When the talent that some of these players possess is left on the table, it changes the entire landscape of sports. What would have become of Josh Hamilton had he not wasted prime developmental years on cocaine benders in Florida?
For one reason or another, the love of cocaine just continued to find a way to overtake some athletes love for the game. Here are fifteen athletes who let their game slide because of their affair with blow.
15 Barry “Bam” Morris
Fresh off of breaking the Southwest Conference rushing record during his junior season at Texas Tech, Bam Morris was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of adding some energy to a stagnant Steelers backfield. Morris showed promise in his rookie year, rushing for over 800 yards in 15 games, as well as having a solid game against the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl the following year. However, it was shortly after that Morris got caught with cocaine which eventually led to his release. Morris bounced around the league for four more seasons, before a string of drug related arrests forced him to spend the rest of his prime in prison.
14 Don Rogers
Former Cleveland Browns Safety Don Rogers was known to his close group of friends as one of the nicest guys around, often bending over backwards and making sure those closest to him were taken care of, like buying houses and cars for his family. However, the night before his wedding, the problems Rogers had developed from all the pressure from loved ones had finally piled too high and he went a little overboard with cocaine, doing a dose that coroners said would have killed an elephant.
13 Roy Tarpley
Possibly the harshest punishment you can hand a professional athlete for a failed substance test is a permanent ban. Which is exactly what 1988 NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner Roy Tarpley received shortly after returning from the three year ban he had received in 1991 for refusing to take a drug test. He claims that he started taking cocaine in college and that it got worse as he started marking more money in the NBA. Sadly, as the pattern of tragic ending riddles this list, Tarpley died earlier this year at the age of 50, though the cause of death isn't known.
12 Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
The man the Dallas Cowboys referred to as “Hollywood” is one of a handful of cocaine lovers that admits to using the substance during their playing days. Most notorious was his admission of using a cocaine laced inhaler during the 1979 Super Bowl, where the Cowboys lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The bruising lineman was eventually moved to another team by a teary-eyed Tom Landry because he could no longer handle Henderson’s behavior. However, since retiring, although he had a stint in prison, Hollywood has not only managed to get clean, but he also won the lottery for $28 million.
11 Steve Howe
One common theme on this list will be MLB Rookie of the Year winners. One of three such players to make this list is Steve Howe. Like the others to win the award, Howe was given too much, too soon. While a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff, Howe never lived up to his potential. Spending more time in rehab centers and serving suspensions for positive tests than working on his pitching, Howe was given a second chance by a number of professional teams, but the once promising young talent never lived up to his first round draft status. Howe was killed in 2006, at just 48 years old, in a car accident in California.
10 Theoren Fleury
Theoren Fleury, like many people that deal with addiction, had a difficult childhood that led to his affinity for cocaine. According to Sportsnet, Fleury’s mother was addicted to Valium while she was pregnant for the future NHL star, as well as he was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. These things led Fleury to resort to cocaine to get the dopamine he was craving, as well as to shut out the dark days of his childhood. Also one of many who turned it around, Theo found solace in spirituality and now uses that to keep himself sober.
9 Martina Hingis
The only female on this list, Martina Hingis was enjoying a comeback in women’s tennis back in 2007, before hip and back injuries forced her out of tennis for a month and a half. However, shortly after her return, the Swiss-born star tested positive for cocaine, which ultimately led to her deciding to retire. While Hingis insisted that she was innocent and retired because she did not want to go through the legal process, others believe that it is the automatic two year ban that goes along with a first offense that pushed Hingis to cut short her career. She's since returned to Tennis again, this time as a doubles player.
8 Bob Probert
Long before Bob Probert became a professional hockey player, he had already developed a fondness for cocaine. The problems only got worse once the record holder for most penalty minutes in a season made it to the pros. Once arrested for smuggling over a half ounce of cocaine across the U.S./Canadian border, Probert, according to Substance.com, spent $42,000 on his habit per year and found himself in rehab five times before the age of 22. In one of many stories on this list that ends in tragedy, Probert sadly passed away at the young age of 45.
7 Dwight Gooden
Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry have been linked together often in their careers. Darryl won the Rookie of the Year award in 1983, Dwight took it home in 1984 and they won a World Series together in 1986. They also made this list together (Strawberry is coming up) because of their inability to put down the white during, and after, their playing years. The man known as “Doc” wrote in a memoir that he spent the evening after winning the 1986 World Series in a housing project on a coke binge with strangers and was so hung-over he didn’t make the victory parade the following morning.
6 Todd Marinovich
Todd Marinovich’s career as an NFL quarterback ended before it really even had the chance to begin. The first round pick out of USC spent just two seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Raiders before being thrown out of the league after his third positive test for substance abuse. They probably shouldn't have been overly surprised as he was arrested for cocaine possession while in college.. No stranger to drug use, Marinovich had a history of drug use dating back to his high school days where, according to Bleacher Report, his nickname was “Marijuana-vich.”
5 Josh Hamilton
Once the poster boy for throwing away an abundance of talent for drugs and alcohol, Josh Hamilton managed to come back from his issues with substances. After becoming the first pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 MLB Draft, Hamilton blew his $4 million signing bonus on drugs, alcohol, and tattoos that symbolize the darkness he felt. However, after a long crack cocaine binge in October 2005, Hamilton was forced to make a choice: continue to do drugs and be homeless or turn his life around with the love and support from the grandmother he was staying with. Hamilton chose the later and has since led the Texas Rangers to two World Series appearances and even won an MVP award. He relapsed while with the Angels last year, but has since gone back to Texas and has gotten himself clean again.
4 Diego Maradona
Throughout Diego Maradona's playing career, he was no stranger to controversy, from the Hand of God against England in the 1986 World Cup to shooting an air rifle at journalists in 1994. However, it was his cocaine use, that he developed while playing for Barcelona, that led to a 15 month suspension from soccer and health problems that caused a heart attack and obesity issues that nearly lead to his death. Voted FIFA’s Player of the Century in 2000, one of the greatest players to ever set foot on the pitch has since turned his life around.
3 Michael Irvin
Michael Irvin made his name in the NFL by having some of the fastest feet in football, who was one of the receivers that helped launch the NFL into the pass happy league that it has become today. However, an arrest in 1995 confirmed what many in the league had already assumed; that Irvin was knee deep in a coke issue. The issue was so serious that fellow receiver, Chris Carter, suggested to Irvin's wife that she leave him because of his problem.
2 Lawrence Taylor
The linebacker who revolutionized the defensive side of the ball had a giant problem. On his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lawrence Taylor demolished quarterbacks, notoriously breaking Joe Theismann's leg on Monday Night Football, but also developed a dangerous addiction to the white stuff. Though the arrests and rehab came mostly after Taylor’s playing career, he admitted to using cocaine in 1985 and also admitted in his book, LT: Over The Edge, that the Giants coaches and front office knew of his use.
1 Darryl Strawberry
Darryl Strawberry was known for putting up All Star numbers with his natural abilities. It, however, irked fans and coaches believed that the smooth swinging lefty was leaving a lot of talent on the table. The criticism, combined with a rocky personal life, left Strawberry relying on cocaine and alcohol. The 1984 Rookie of the year started to be suspended by the league regularly for failed substance abuse tests and frequently found himself in drug treatment centers later in his career, carrying the behavior into his post playing days, including getting himself arrested while possessing cocaine as he tried to pick up an undercover cop.