Many Americans struggle with addiction and that includes the most reputable athletes. Addiction has affected athletes in every sport: basketball, hockey, baseball, football and soccer. If you have had a favorite athlete struggle with substance abuse, this might not faze you, but for others, it is a tragedy and can prove to be very disappointing. However, it shows that athletes are humans first and it could happen to the best of us. The culture of professional sports can become quite dangerous for a lot of athletes, especially because of the influence from peers and others.
Players' behavior, oftentimes, send them into a spiral road to addiction. The pressure can be catastrophic and in some cases, the athlete is unable to get back to the surface. In other instances, the player will drop deeper into the addiction and never make it back to the game that was once loved. There are different forms of addiction namely, drugs, alcohol and gambling. These can all damage a person’s life, but when in the spotlight, it can ruin their reputation, leaving them alone, broke and possibly over-indulgent in their addiction. When someone’s life is out of control because of drugs, it can be quite difficult to restore their position as athletes. Additionally, addiction is not an easy feat to beat. It can end someone’s life as well as continually cause damage throughout the athlete’s lifespan. With their notable accomplishments and huge personalities on TV, athletes are more vulnerable it seems when it comes to beating addiction. The notoriety and pressure from the public may stand in the way. Personal problems may prompt an athlete to seek solace in drugs, painkillers, alcohol or gambling. While it doesn’t have to be so, it certainly is a reality. Some athletes have used their experience to help others, which is commendable. Below are stories of 15 athletes who battled or are battling the demon of addiction.
15 Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel was the star quarterback at the well-known University, Texas A&M. During his college days, he did a lot of partying and drinking. His name and photo were regularly plastered over the Internet and in celebrity gossip news, tagging him with a bad boy reputation. Things apparently didn’t change when he got to the NFL. His partying ways went with him to the NFL in his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns. As a result, he received several fines from the league and franchise for his alcoholic tendencies. He has recently checked himself into a rehab center. Let’s see how that goes.
14 Jeremy Mayfield
NASCAR driver, Jeremy Mayfield received many suspensions from his favorite sport as a result of failing several drug tests. He was also busted by the DEA for stolen goods found in his home, which valued more than $100K. The DEA also seized methamphetamine, 50 guns, heavy machinery and audio equipment. The drug policy at NASCAR and Mayfield’s continued meth use was no positive combination for him to sit in a car and race.
13 Barret Robbins
Barret Robins had an awesome life, until he wrecked it in January 2003. Robbins played in the NFL for the Raiders as a center. Days prior to being a starting center in the Super Bowl, he disappeared. When he did surface, drugs were found in his system and he was in a hyperactive condition. He blamed himself for the Super Bowl team loss. Robbins did undergo treatment and regained his position on the team. However, he tested positive for steroids soon after and was subsequently released from the team. From then, his life began to spiral out of control. He got into a brawl with law enforcement in Miami and ended up with three gunshot wounds and probation of five years. Most recently, he received a five-year prison sentence for drug possession and violating his probation.
12 Art Schlichter
Art Schlichter was highly publicized as a first round pick in the NFL Draft from Ohio State. He was considered an excellent quarterback, but his personal life was nothing short of a disaster. His demon was gambling other people’s money, which eventually ended his promising NFL career in 1985 with a gambling debt of $700,000. In 1987, he was arrested for participating in a multi-million dollar sports gambling scheme. Since that time, he has had more than 20 similar offenses. While he was on house arrest in January 2012, he was charged for a violation that stemmed from a $1 million scam and failed drug tests.
11 Erik Ainge
Erik Ainge, nephew of past basketball player, Danny Ainge and former backup quarterback for the New York Jets admitted using drugs at the age of 12. He indicated that his drug use started with a bong hit. It got worse as he started smoking marijuana and then moved to prescription drugs, cocaine, alcohol and heroin. That is quite a package for anyone. When he was in his senior year at a college in Tennessee, he was fighting painkiller addiction, consuming them in handfuls. He claims to be clean from drugs for several months, but admitted that it was a struggle and his football career was not the most important thing to him at the moment – just staying clean. He has tried staying clean from drugs before and had relapses. So now, he wants to put more emphasis on his recovery and not football.
10 Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is known for his exemplary performance as an Olympic swimmer, but he has also been plagued with DUI and marijuana trouble. Every four years, you hear his name in a swimming mete, but recently, his name has been mentioned for other extracurricular activities such as DUI. He has been suspended from the USA Swimming team because of a DUI charge, a charge of which he pled guilty. This was his second infraction in 10 years. He is currently on probation for 18 months, but has to serve a year prison sentence afterwards. He won’t be participating in the World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia in 2015.
9 Michael Chopra
Some athletes get so caught up in gambling, and it can ruin their careers. Soccer player, Michael Chopra is one of them. He played as a forward on the Newcastle team. It is reported the Chopra spent millions of English pounds on gambling. At one time, he got into trouble with gangsters who chased him to collect their gambling debt. British Horse Racing Authority also charged him in 2012 for suspicious activities related to manipulating the horse race. He was banned for 10 years from participation in racing. He still struggles with his addiction.
8 JaMarcus Russell
In 2007, 28-year-old, JaMarcus Russell was in the headlines for landing a $61 million contract with the Oakland Raiders as their quarterback. However, the team released him in May 2010 because of his poor performance. In July 2010, he was arrested for possessing a controlled substance, which admittedly was codeine cough syrup. It is reported that he got rid of his demons, but it wasn't enough to get him back into the NFL. His last tryout came with the Bears a couple of years ago.
7 Dwight Gooden
Like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden won Rookie of the Year during his initial years as a professional baseball player and he was also the winner of the sought-after Cy Young Award. Dwight Gooden lighted up the MLB as an amazing pitcher. He also participated in the World Series in 1986, but his struggles with alcohol and cocaine dimmed his performance. As his drug and alcohol problems mounted, he became less of a household name. He went through a succession of failed drug tests, injuries, game suspensions and legal problems. In 2000, he retired from the MLB and continues to battle drug and alcohol addiction.
6 Ricky Williams
NFL player, Ricky Williams has made several news headlines for allegedly smoking marijuana. Instead of getting clean, he left the NFL. On three occasions, he had tested positive for the drug while he was with the Miami Dolphins. It is reported that in 2004, he left the game he loved so much to study the holistic effect of the drug he smoked. However, he did return to the game in 2005 to earn an income, but again, he tested positive for the drug. He was finally kicked out of the league. He subsequently pursued more of the ‘green stuff.’ He has compared it as the spinach to his Popeye.
5 Darren McCarty
Like a lot of the players in the NHL, toughness and fighting was the norm for Darren McCarty. He was one of those incredible grinders in on the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup teams of the late 90s and early 2000s. Off the ice, he found solace in alcohol and drugs. In his recent book titled, “My Last Fight,” the prior Red Wing talked about his fight with marijuana and alcohol addiction. He tested positive for the drug numerous times while he played professional hockey. If he had no weed or alcohol present, he settled for cocaine. He would use cocaine to pick himself up after a bout of drunkenness from alcohol. He has made efforts to lessen his drinking while surrendering the cocaine altogether.
4 Michael Irvin
There are plenty of stories about Michael Irvin – too many to mention here. One time, the Hall of Fame wide receiver was caught in a hotel room with prostitutes, sex toys, marijuana and cocaine. The grand jury subsequently indicted him for the cocaine possession. He also received a misdemeanor for possessing weed. After, Irvin retired from the game of football; he was also arrested for possession of drugs. He was also accused of sexually assaulting someone in 2007, but charges were never filed.
How can a player who has been inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame, achieved receiving yards of more than 11,000 and 65 touchdowns get into such a dilemma? Although, he went on to become a football analyst on TV, he is the first to admit that he is still battling his addiction.
3 Ryan Leaf
Some NFL players are known to take painkillers for head trauma and other injuries incurred during the game of football, but it can sometimes lead to substance abuse.
Ryan Leaf would go on to be known as the biggest draft bust in NFL history. In 1998, he was chosen as the second overall pick after Peyton Manning. His time in the NFL was short. He was released after just three seasons with the San Diego Chargers. To combat the pain suffered from shoulder and wrist injuries, he took painkillers and soon was addicted to them. Since he left the NFL in 2002, he has pled guilty for being involved in stealing or illegally possessing narcotic painkillers.
He recently served several years in prison after pleading guilty to burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug. He was released in December, 2014.
2 Keith McCants
In the 1990 NFL draft, Keith McCants was the fourth pick overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He signed a contract for $4.4 million. The team didn’t do well and so the Buccaneers released McCants. For three years after that, he made sporadic appearances for the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. Due to constant knee injuries and subsequent bad performances, he was out of football after the 1995 season.
With him, went his knee injuries and addiction to painkillers. After football, he made some poor choices, being arrested on three occasions for drug charges that involved painkillers and cocaine. He lost most of the money that he made from the NFL. By the time he got to his mid-40s, he was overweight, used a cane and his life revolved in and out of halfway houses.
1 Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton had a history with drugs and alcohol from way back as the beginning of his baseball career in 1999. After receiving an injury in an automobile accident in 2001, he began to take crack cocaine and overindulge in alcohol. He went in and out of rehab and by 2006, he was no longer playing baseball. This was due to numerous suspensions and voluntary time off because of his drug habit. Although, he went to the World Series twice with the Rangers and received an MVP award in 2010, his drug and alcoholic problems haveconstantly plagued him. He relapsed in 2009 as well as 2012.
It was reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports that Hamilton again relapsed around Super Bowl week, following an argument with his wife. Hamilton wrote himself a check to cash, as he cannot carry cash or credit cards. That night, he wound up at a strip club and used cocaine. A decision from the MLB will determine what kind of discipline Hamilton will face, but the real story is if he can ever defeat his demons.