Drugs and alcohol have become a major part of NFL culture. From March 2013 to March 2014, NFL players were arrested 27 times on drug charges, and several players have also received lengthy suspensions for positive drug tests, including Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Brown, who was suspended for the entire 2014 season.
The issue is complicated by the prescription drugs used to treat frequent injuries. Just recently, NFL team doctors were raided by the DEA on suspicion of over-prescribing painkillers to players in order to keep them on the field.
Still, many current and former NFL stars have beaten the odds. Here are five examples of NFL players who successfully tackled their addictions.
Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati Bengals)
In January 2010, Maualuga, 27, was charged with a DUI after smashing his car into two other parked cars and a parking meter. His blood alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit, which he attributed to “six Captain and Cokes.” Maualuga pleaded guilty and was assessed seven days in jail, had his licensed suspended and was fined, but also discharged on the condition that he didn’t have any other incidents in the next two years.
Maualuga spent over a month at an inpatient treatment center in Charleston, South Carolina, and has been sober ever since. “My body never felt so great. I never looked so good,” he said in May 2010. “Now I can hopefully compare myself to last year when I wasn’t able to run 10 or 12 plays without being incredibly tired. All my focus is on my body and how much stronger I can get, how much stronger I can be and being a reliable teammate.”
Erin Henderson (Minnesota Vikings)
Henderson was involved in two separate drunk driving incidents in early 2014, and charged with two DWIs, as well as possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. The 28-year-old linebacker managed to avoid jail time and received a year of probation, a fine and community service. He completed a stint at a 30-day rehab shortly after his second arrest and has remained sober.
I wouldn’t trade those 30 days for anything, to be able to better myself and do some soul searching…
“I wouldn’t trade those 30 days for anything, to be able to better myself and do some soul searching,” Henderson said. “I’m sober, but it’s definitely an everyday battle. Every day is a struggle, but they say it’s one day at a time, so that’s how I’m taking it. But I’m enjoying the sober life.”
Erik Ainge (New York Jets)
Shortly before training camp began for the 2010 season, Ainge, 28, went on a two-week bender and ended up in rehab. What came as a surprise to his fans was the extent of his drug use. Ainge was addicted to painkillers by his senior year of college, but heroin, cocaine and alcohol were his primary drugs of choice. He overdosed several times and had to be rushed to the hospital.
“I used a lot of heroin. You talk about an expensive habit,” he said. “I remember I used to go to the ATM and take out hundreds of dollars at a time. I lied to people and destroyed relationships. I had to get help before I died.”
After his 2010 episode, Ainge spent four months between two inpatient facilities in Boston, where he was finally given proper medication to treat his bipolar disorder. He now attends regular therapy sessions plus four or five AA and NA meetings per week.
“I still have a lot of work to do, but…I’ve never been clean and sober this long since I was 11,” he said. “The best part is being able to help other people. If I can help one kid, it would be worth it.”
The best part is being able to help other people. If I can help one kid, it would be worth it.
Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers)
Smith was arrested in September 2013 on DUI and weapons charges. It was the second DUI arrest for the 25-year-old linebacker, who was pulled over 18 months earlier in Miami Beach. However, that incident was eventually reduced to a reckless driving charge. Smith was also allegedly drunk when he made a bomb threat at LAX in April 2013, but was never given a breathalyzer test and eventually had the charge dropped.
A judge sentenced Smith to community service for his most recent DUI, which he completed weekly on his team’s off-day. He had voluntarily entered rehab shortly after the arrest and missed the first six weeks of the 2013 season, but says it was a worthwhile move since it helped him get sober.
“I’ve been able to maintain (sobriety). It’s going good,” he said last July. “(It) has been a growing process, and I’m in a better spot than I have been.”
Terry Tautolo (San Francisco 49ers)
The former 49ers star went from being a Super Bowl winner in 1981 to living under an LA freeway. Damage from concussions ended his career, but his alcoholism led him to homelessness. He was eventually tracked down by former coach Dick Vermeil, who helped pay for part of his inpatient rehab and then got the NFL Players Association to pick up some of the tab.
It’s such a bad word, addiction… but it really isn’t. That’s my truth.
Tautolo, 60, is now living in a recovery house in Santa Monica, California. He serves as a mentor and works with children living with autism. He has managed to stay sober ever since reconnecting with Vermeil. “I’m here now, and I’m grateful,” said Tautolo. “It’s such a bad word, addiction, alcoholism, but it really isn’t. That’s my truth.”