If there’s one thing I’ve learned since facing my own addiction, it’s that this disease does not discriminate. Rich, poor, black, white, young, old, girl, or boy, the tenacity of addiction has the power to affect each person in the same way. That includes professional athletes who have competed at the highest level. We often see professional athletes who have suffered from substance use issues painted in a shameful light in the media. But we must remember they are just like any of us who have struggled with our own demons. Regardless of money or access to resources, each of us has our own journey, including professional athletes.
Here are 10 famous athletes whose careers have been plagued by addiction:
1. Lamar Odom
Odom’s name, along with his estranged wife Khloe Kardashian’s, have been all over the news lately due to Odom being found unconscious at a Nevada brothel in mid-October of this year. Odom is believed to have overdosed on cocaine and other drugs and is still recovering in the hospital. Addiction runs in Odom’s family; his father is a heroin addict who was absent for most of his life. During his career in the NBA, Odom struggled with drugs for years. In 2001 he was suspended from the LA Clippers for having marijuana in his system, but he played 14 successful seasons in the NBA. In 2013 he received a DUI and 36 months probation, as well as alcohol counseling classes. I hope he continues to make strides in his recovery and uses his past as the foundation on which to build his new life.
2. CC Sabathia
New York Yankees pitcher, CC Sabathia issued a statement that he was entering an alcohol rehabilitation center at the beginning of October, and would miss the Yankees’ post season this year. In the statement he released online he referred to his alcohol issues as “his disease”. After attending a rehab facility for a month Sabathia spoke out about his alcoholism. He mentioned that he knew he was an alcoholic in 2012, but struggled with trying to regulate his drinking (as many of us do). Although he clarified he did not drink at the stadium or before any of his pitching starts, his rock bottom was during the Yankees’ final regular season series. He wasn’t scheduled to pitch and he went on a 48-hour drinking binge, which led him to his moment of clarity. He told the Yankees’ manager on October 4 that he is an alcoholic and the next day he entered treatment. I know the relief and freedom he now feels very well.
3. Diego Maradona
One of the greats of my favorite sport – soccer, Diego Maradona, is not much different from the other people on this list. Maradona is best known for his controversial moment in leading his home country of Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup. The moment labeled “the hand of God” occurred in the quarterfinal match against England where Maradona went into the air for a challenge with the English goalie and ended up punching the ball into the net with his left fist. The referee let it stand and it became one of the most controversial goals in the history of the game. Maradona was an amazing soccer player, but he became addicted to cocaine in the 1980’s while playing in Spain. He received several suspensions throughout his playing career after testing positive for the substance. Maradona admits that his soccer career suffered due to drugs, and that his opponents gained a huge advantage because of this.
4. Michael Phelps
Phelps made a splash in the pool with 18 Olympic gold medals for USA swimming in recent years. His love of social events, booze, and gambling wasn’t a secret, but didn’t become problematic until the law got involved. In December of 2014 he pleaded guilty to a DUI and received a sentence of a year in jail. The jail sentence was suspended and he is currently serving a year and a half’s probation. Since his DUI arrest he attended a 45-day stay in rehab, followed by attending AA meetings. A six-month suspension by USA swimming ended in March 2015, but Phelps was still banned from swimming in the world championships that were held in Russia this summer. I hope to see Phelps enjoy life in recovery and get back into competitive swimming.
5. Johnny Manziel
Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel is only 22 years old and is currently playing his second season in the NFL. His run-ins with the law, media, and drugs began as soon as he was drafted by the Browns in 2014. He even missed a walkthrough and treatment session during last year’s season after throwing a party at his condo. Manziel entered Caron Pennsylvania, a drug and alcohol treatment center, after he finished his rocky rookie year season. Since leaving rehab, Manziel has been flying under the radar on and off the field. His current NFL season has been less than sub-par and reports surfaced this week that he went back to his alma mater, Texas A&M, to party; photos of him holding a beer in his hand were included.
6. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman is no stranger to gossip magazines and controversial headlines, but what he first became famous for was his basketball skills. He excelled in the NBA for 14 years, winning 5 championships, and was known as “arguably the best rebounding forward in NBA history,” according to nba.com. Rodman has a history of toxic relationships, DUIs, and other unusual behavior like visiting and canoodling with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jun Ung. He entered into rehab in 2014 after suffering an angry meltdown during a CNN interview. After treatment he clarified that he is not an alcoholic because he doesn’t drink every day, and that he just went to rehab to reevaluate his life. It seems to me that Rodman is still in deep denial about any issues he may have; I hope he finds peace soon.
7. Darryl Strawberry
A MLB superstar for 17 years, Strawberry led the New York Mets to a World Series championship in 1986, and the New York Yankees to championships in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Amidst his successful career in baseball, Strawberry was suspended three times from the league for substance abuse issues. After serving several prison terms and going in an out of rehab, he found sobriety and has sustained 11 years in recovery from alcohol and drugs. He became a pastor and recently opened the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center in St. Cloud, Florida.
8. Chris Herren
Chris Herren was drafted into the NBA after college and played two seasons, one for the Denver Nuggets and the other for the Boston Celtics. He then played overseas in Europe for six years. Herren’s drug use began to affect his basketball career in college where he failed a drug test and attended his first 28-day stay in rehab. While playing for the Boston Celtics he began using painkillers and eventually was charged with possession of heroin, along with driving under the influence. Herren found the miracle of recovery in 2008 and has been sober ever since. He has made it his life’s work to spread the message of strength and hope through his memoir, speaking engagements, and his foundation, The Herren Project, that helps families and addicts who are suffering to find the right treatment options.
9. John Daly
A professional golfer who has won the PGA tour five times, John Daly is also know for his unique style on the golf course, and his “rough-and-tumble” personal life. Throughout the years he has publicly struggled with cocaine, alcohol, and gambling issues. After a public intoxication incident in 2008, Daly committed to quitting alcohol and to this day, does not drink. Daly is still considered to be a “wild thing” on the course, so much so that at the 2015 PGA Championship he was so angry about a bad shot, he threw his 6-iron into Lake Michigan.
10. Allen Iverson
Iverson played 14 seasons in the NBA, most notably for my favorite team, the Philadelphia 76ers. Throughout his years in the NBA he faced gambling issues, legal troubles, and financial questions. He denied rumors about much of his troubles, including being in a great amount of debt. In June 2015, journalist Kent Babb released a book entitled “Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Remarkable Fall of Allen Iverson.” In the book he mentioned Iverson was drunk during his infamous “We talkin’ about practice” rant in 2002. Does Iverson suffer from the disease of addiction? I guess only time will tell.
Addiction is a powerful affliction that can touch anyone, even successful athletes. I personally think it’s not what you do during active addiction that matters, but what you do after you’ve found recovery that counts.
Photo source: espn.go.com