The MLB playoffs have officially kicked off. Football season is well underway. NBA games begin in less than two weeks and many of us New Englanders are looking forward to hockey season, which is also just around the corner. As the 2016-17 sports season commences, it’s safe to say that many fans are firing up at the thought of this year’s prospects.
But as we tune in to watch the games each week, let’s not forget that many of our favorite professional athletes are vying off-field as well as on. Many esteemed players are facing pressures that we do not see through our television screens. Many famous athletes are battling the disease of addiction.
Substance addiction has affected athletes in nearly every sport: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer. And most likely, you’ve heard many of these addiction stories before – a rookie superstar gets pushed into the spotlight, a famous athlete succumbs to pressure, a recovering player relapses.
So often we hear about celebrity athletes struggling with addiction that we rarely get the chance to take a step back and think: these athletes are human, too. Even more, we forget to reflect on the fact that many of these sober athletes have strengths and acknowledgments that go beyond the playing field.
Below are four storied and sober athletes who found the power to overcome drug addiction, the courage to persist on the playing field, and the words to inspire recovering addicts nationwide.
1. Josh Hamilton
Back in 1999 at the start of his famed baseball career, Josh Hamilton was signed as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the then-Devil Rays. Since then, he took multiple trips to the World Series, assumed an MVP title, and became a five-time MLB all-star.
During his time with the Devil Rays to the Cincinnati Reds, from the Los Angeles Angels to the Texas Rangers, Hamilton rose to become one of the most successful baseball players of all time. He also became one of the most well-known sober athletes today and of the most inspiring addiction stories.
Josh Hamilton had hardly touched drugs or alcohol until he came to the major leagues. Four years into his career as a professional baseball player, he got caught amidst the addiction cycle – abusing cocaine as well as alcohol. Josh Hamilton’s addiction banned him from baseball from 2003 to 2005, and he has experienced several relapses since.
It’s clear that addiction is an ongoing battle, something that someone commits to and fights for each and every day. Josh Hamilton is one of those people, who still struggles to stay sober but manages to use his story to inspire. He tells SportsDay, “I haven't gotten tired of telling this story yet… It's my obligation - no, it's my privilege - to tell it to whoever wants to hear it. I realize how fortunate I am. If people can see that I'm not that different than them, maybe it can help them, too.”
2. C.C. Sabathia
New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia has played in sold-out stadiums around the country. He has played in the World Series, was awarded an MVP title, and is now a six-time MLB all-star.
Still, as one of the most durable pitchers the major leagues have seen, Sabathia claims that nothing has scared him more than admitting he had an alcohol problem. Nothing, to this day, has intimidated him more than the moment he realized he needed professional addiction treatment.
Sabathia shares his addiction story on The Players Tribune. He explains that alcohol, his vice, once felt like a savoir – it helped him ease anxieties, it boosted his self-confidence, it allowed him to fit in with the fame and adopt the expected lifestyle. Alcohol quickly assumed a “normal” role in his life.
He explains, “It wasn’t until 2012 that I really thought there was something wrong. But I also learned how big the divide is between having a problem and asking for help. I didn’t seek out professional help initially for a number of reasons. One of the biggest things was pride. I thought this was something I could control. I never thought that I actually had an addiction or a disease.”
It was in October 2015 when Sabathia sought help. And after a month in drug rehab, he began his drug-free and sober life as a professional athlete. The Yankees player and family man encourages others battling addiction to also seek help:
“If you’re having trouble coming to grips with your own issues related to alcohol, I want you to understand that you’re not alone. This isn’t anything to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It’s a disease. And there’s a support system out there to help you control it. Once you do go through the process, you’ll be you again — the real you. And you’ll realize that that’s good enough.”
3. Brett Favre
As one of the top quarterbacks of all-time, Brett Favre spent the majority of his football career with the renowned Green Bay Packers. The sober athlete holds many NFL records, including most career pass completions, most career pass attempts, most career interceptions thrown, and most consecutive starts by a player. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just this year.
What many folks may not know about the three-time MVP is that he struggled with an opiate addiction for much of his NFL career. After having multiple injuries and undergoing several surgeries, Favre became dependent on painkillers. In 1996, he suffered a severe seizure in the hospital and claimed it to be his “wake up call,” to seek professional help for his drug abuse.
Favre explains in a recent CBS interview that he was taking about 15 Vicodin pills at the time he entered rehab. He was taking a month’s worth of pills in a two day span.
Favre spent 46 days in drug treatment. He went on to break more records, win an MVP, and successfully retire as a 20-year veteran of the NFL – while staying 20 years sober.
4. Chris Herren
Many basketball fanatics thought that Chris Herren, former NBA guard, had it all when he was signed to his hometown team, the Boston Celtics. But amidst many pressures to be the best, Herren fell into the addiction cycle.
Drug abuse was nothing new for basketball player Chris Herren. The years leading up to his famed career were also shadowed by drug addiction. Herren was expelled from Boston College for cocaine abuse. He completed his college degree at Fresno State, where after failing a drug test, he went through a stint of drug rehab.
Herren was addicted to cocaine and OxyContin, which eventually turned into a full-blown heroin addiction. After a severe overdose in which the former athlete had to be brought back to life, he realized it was time to get clean. Now sober, this former athlete created Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren, a basketball camp, and became a motivational speaker for others in recovery. He started The Herren Project, a non-profit offering scholarships and teaching children about health and addiction. Herren was also the focus of Unguarded, an Emmy-nominated ESPN documentary about his career and recovery.
There are many sober celebrities out there who are committed to recovery. Even for them, it is a journey. It is a process, and it is important we realize that even the strongest athletes can become addicted. But they overcome it – and you can, too. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn more.