The list of professional athletes who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction is a long one. It’s longer than we’ll ever know, to be sure. From ex-NFL linemen addicted to Vicodin to hard-drinking basketball players, many stars of the sporting world have indulged more than they ought to have.
If we add marijuana use to the mix, then the names of those using drugs in professional sports could fill volumes if reports from former and current players are to be believed.
There are dangerous intersections in professional sports and the world of celebrity athletes that can often send players down the dark road of addiction–young men (and women) thrust into the spotlight, and an environment of unimaginable pressure and scrutiny craving escape. Once dirt poor and now in possession of more cash than they know what to do with in a culture of nightclubbing and over-indulgence, young players on certain teams find themselves in situations that can quickly spiral out of control.
This, of course, isn’t to mention the impulse toward self-medication and the abuse of opioid drugs many athletes seem to need in order that they might erase the pain in their battered bodies.
Perhaps, it’s odd that public figures noted for the commitment and discipline they display with regard to their bodies would choose to compromise both their sources of revenue and everything they’ve worked for. However, it’s not terribly uncommon, even among the best in sport, as this list indicates.
10. Darryl Strawberry – MLB
Strawberry isn’t the poster child for wasted talent or a career sidetracked by drugs. Sure, his love of cocaine and penchant for domestic abuse didn’t enhance his professional career. Sure, his fluid Williamsian swing would have served him better if he were more focused on baseball. Nevertheless, Strawberry managed to have a pretty impressive tenure in Major League Baseball despite his drug addiction.
During his career, the Straw was suspended for drug use three times. He spent 28 days at the Betty Ford clinic after failing to show up for a Dodgers exhibition game in 1994, and in 1999, the slugger was arrested for cocaine posession and soliciting an undercover police officer.
Strawberry went on an epic four-day binge in 2001 that landed him in the hospital. As a result, he entered a rehab facility but was eventually kicked out for having sex with fellow residents. The former New York Met then found himself in the Gainesville Correctional Institute, where he spent 11 months.
9. Nate Newton – NFL
Nate Newton’s foray into the drug world involved not only using marijuana but selling the devil’s weed. The Pro Bowl offensive lineman said, “I’ve always been competitive…I couldn’t see myself not being the biggest dope man.”
In 2001, Newton and two women were pulled over for a traffic violation. After a search of the car, it was discovered that Newton was in possession of 213 pounds of marijuana. While on bond for that offense, Newton was again pulled over and found to be carrying massive quantities of the stuff.
The former Dallas Cowboy served 2 1/2 years in a Louisiana prison for marijuana possession, but has reportedly turned his life around since, becoming more pious and dedicating himself to mentoring children.
8. John Hamilton – MLB
It’s difficult to think of a professional athlete in recent memory whose past struggles with drugs and alcohol continue to play an important part in their story. The saga of Josh Hamilton, now, is one of redemption, as the career .295 hitter recently inked a five-year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
A 2001 car accident derailed Hamilton’s minor league career and his life as the former first-overall draft pick spiraled into drug addiction, ending up in rehab eight times. The star prospect once pawned his wife’s wedding ring for cocaine and blew $100,000 on crack in little more than a month.
Hamilton was suspended from baseball in 2003, 2004, and 2005 for drug use, eventually getting clean in 2005 following a well-documented incident in which a despondent Hamilton showed up at this grandmother’s house. Since that time, Hamilton has stayed off drugs and has only had a pair of alcohol-related relapses.
7. Todd Marinovich
Todd Marinovich is arguably the athlete who indulged most heavily in drugs and alcohol during his playing career–both on and off the field. Marinovich began smoking weed in high school and moved on to ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin throughout his time at USC and professionally with the L.A. Raiders.
When he was a boy, Todd Marinovich’s father put his son on a ludicrous regimen attempting to mold him into an NFL quarterback. He lasted only a season in the NFL, playing just a few games as a starter, before landing in rehab. He never had significant success in any professional league again.
How out of control was Marinovich? Consider this anecdote: Once, during half time the quarterback shot up with heroin AND smoked crack in the locker room before returning to the football field.
6. Ricky Williams – NFL
Ricky Williams really liked to smoke weed, so much so that rather than clean up his act, he elected to leave the NFL. Williams tested positive for marijuana three times during his tenure with the Miami Dolphins. In 2004, Williams retired from football in order to study holistic medicine.
The running back only returned to the league to improve his cashflow situation in 2005 but again failed a drug test a year later (although Williams claimed the offending ingredient came from a herbal supplement).
Since retiring, Ricky has delivered several choice quotes about the green stuff. When asked whether marijuana adversely affected his playing career, Williams likened the substance to “spinach for Popeye.” In addition, he recently said he doesn’t think the NFL cares if its players smoke pot, which is an odd statement since the formerly dreadlocked star was effectively booted from the league due to his passion for puffing.
5. Lawrence Taylor – NFL
L.T.: incredible outside linebacker, incredible partier. Lawrence Taylor was once asked what he can do that no other outside linebacker was capable of. “Drink,” he replied.
Taylor ran through cocaine and prostitutes like a man who loved cocaine and prostitutes. In 1987, the NY Giants star tested positive for cocaine and was hit with a 30-day suspension. Following a second failed test in 1988, Taylor quite the snow for five years to avoid a third positive drug test, which would have resulted in his suspension from the league.
However, L.T. hadn’t mended his ways, as he had every intention of starting to snort again after his retirement. And he did, eventually finding himself in drug rehab in 1995. Following this, Taylor was arrested twice within three years for trying to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer.
In recent years, Taylor has found himself in hot water for patronizing a 16-year-old prostitute and leaving the scene of an accident. However, he hasn’t made headlines for any drug-related misbehavior as of late.
4. Diego Maradona – Soccer
Diego Maradona, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, has degenerated into drug use and poor health on an impressive scale, having earned himself a 15-month ban after failing a drug test in 1991.
Maradona was addicted to cocaine from the mid 80s through the mid 2000s. During his tenure playing in Italy, he was a full-fledged addict. A series of heart issues and stints in rehab have punctuated Maradona’s post-playing career, and in 2004 the Argentinian nearly died after a cocaine overdose.
Reportedly, the former star striker is clean now, and at 53 is expected to play for a low-tier team owned by his lawyer in Argentina.
3. Dennis Rodman – NBA
Dennis Rodman is an alcoholic. After a recent booze-fueled trip to North Korea, the prodigious rebounder entered rehab for the umpteenth time after drinking at an alarming rate throughout the trip.
In a story that could only arise form the morass of American popular culture, Dennis Rodman’s behavior on the Celebrity Apprentice apparently merited an intervention, which landed him on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
2. John Daly – Golf
Bad boy of the PGA Tour, John Daly has made a career of notable off-course antics. The PGA Tour encouraged Daly to enter rehab no fewer than seven times during the course of his career, and he was once reprimanded for hitting balls off the top of a beer can during a pro-am.
Early in his career, J.D. copped to drinking a fifth of Jack Daniels per day. In 2008, the police picked up a drunk and disheveled Daly outside of a North Carolina Hooters and took him into custody. Reportedly, he’s been sober since the incident.
1. Theo Fleury – NHL
While the other athletes on this list may have experienced childhood traumas of some variety that put them on the path of booze and drugs, it’s likely that none of them had it as bad as Theoren Fleury. The undersized star was routinely molested by a junior hockey coach.
Fleury failed drug tests on multiple occasions during his tenure in the NHL. After games, he reportedly often hung around with drug dealers, strippers, and the homeless. Fleury’s career ended after a drunken strip club brawl. Shortly thereafter, he held a gun to his head and nearly pulled the trigger.
Fleury’s life has improved since that rock-bottom moment, now his stated mission is “To help as many people get to where they need to go,” according to his website.
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