In the wake of the Aaron Hernandez story, has caused me to do some serious reflection on the career ending decisions that I have made.
It started for me back in high school because I was a three-sport athlete and winning the sports award, which was combined, wins for boys and girls sports would bring an award to the school along with prestige. My school allowed me to do whatever I wanted to, no one ever corrected my bad behavior, what they said was don’t worry about it we will take care of it and because of that my understanding of what was love was warped. I thought that my school really cared about me.
Fast-forward to college and now there are consequences for my actions and people are trying to correct my bad behavior, I fought it tooth and nail. My reason for that was “Oh they don’t like me” or “They don’t understand.”
I think it is my responsibility as a mentor and teacher as I get opportunities to speak to young athletes is to get them to understand there are consequences for their actions, and by learning to make better choices at a young age when the consequences are minimal, they will be better equipped to make good choices as an adult. It is not how you start the race it is how you finish.
I don’t want them to experience what Aaron and myself and countless other athletes have went through, where the decisions they made ended there career or their freedom. This is not my opinion or excuses I am making for bad behavior, I just sharing my experience and hope someone will read this and not have to travel the path I took. I am a firm believer of consequences it has been my greatest teacher.
So what is different for me now, because I have experienced consequences at the highest level, their is a process I go through when faced with a choice, I weight the consequences I run it by a close friend. I make an effort to try and find someone who has been in the situation I’m in asking them what they did and what were the results.
One of my biggest downfalls in life was not learning from others mistakes. Today I learn from what someone does right as well as what someone does wrong. My prayers today is to get in a position to where I can help young athletes acquired the tools they need to have a long and successful career in life or playing the sport they love.
I was homeless and living on the street, I was having problems with my left foot. I had already had my big toe removed, from poor circulation. The doctor told me next time I come back with the same issue, they would have to take my foot. So my foot got infected again and I chose to stay out there on the street as long as I can because I knew when I went to the hospital I would lose my foot. I didn’t know that the infection could go from my foot into my bloodstream, I was rush to the hospital and when I came to the doctor explained to me that he should not be having a conversation with me I should be dead.
People were telling me for years that if I didn’t do something about my addiction, that I was going to die, and I didn’t believe them, now I believe. I had a long talk with myself in the hospital that night. I didn’t want to die and I didn’t want people to remember me the way I was. The infection did a lot of damage to my body and I spent two months in the hospital. When I was released I poured myself into AA, I got a sponsor and I did everything he told me to do.
I was not looking for a relationship with God, I was trying to find a way to stay sober, up to that point the most sober time I had was two years, it had been double digits years of in and out of the program. The one thing I had not done in all those years was the twelve steps, and this time I was committed to doing them all. My reward for doing the steps was I had developed a relationship with God.
Today I try to live my life in a way that is pleasing to God, I continue to build that relationship, on a daily basis, and it is the main reason that I have been able to stay sober for six going on seven years. I give all the credit to Christ, and now when life happens I don’t turn to a bottle, I turn to Christ he makes the impossible, possible!
During my rookie year in the NFL, I was not starting at the time. My coach gave me the speech about working hard and it would get me in the starting line up.
We were running the other teams offensive plays and I was going up against orange crush teammate Tom Jackson. So we ran a play and I fired out and hit Tom like it was a game situation. After the play Tom said, “Ok rook this is the buddy system fire out make it look good we are not playing the game today”.
So I eased up and Tom went flying by me and made the hit on the running back in the backfield, and of course my coach yelled at me.
I looked over at Tom and he had a big smile on his face, I never fell for that one again. Lesson learned.
Funny story, during my rookie year in training camp with the Denver Broncos, the Turk, who is the coach and his job is when your services are no longer needed tells you that the head coach wants to see you and bring your playbook
Well during training camps he would sit in the chow hall during breakfast by the door. When guys would leave he would let them know that the coach wants to see him and bring your playbook. As always I am one of the last guys to wake up in the morning so I get to breakfast late.
So it was another player and myself getting ready to leave for the chow hall. If the Turk was still sitting at the door that means he is waiting on someone. The guy I was sitting there with was afraid that his time was up so he was stalling and I guess he was taking too long because the Turk came over and got him.
When I exited the hall the Turk called to me and I said you got to be kidding me! He started laughing and said to me I just wanted to mess with you because this entire training camp you walk out of here like you knew you were not getting cut. So I had to mess with you.
Not making the team was not an option for me, I can laugh about it now but it was not funny at the time.
- 2013 Denver Broncos Off Season Schedule (predominantlyorange.com)
- What to Expect from Broncos’ 2012 Rookie Class in 2013 (bleacherreport.com)
Since this Sunday is super bowl Sunday, thought I would share my first super bowl as a rookie. First of all getting to play in the super bowl as a rookie was an awesome experience in itself. So when we beat the Browns in that game that was given the name The Drive, I was elated!
The Drive refers to an offensive series in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game played on January 11, 1987 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.
This game is best remembered for The Drive in Cleveland and Denver sports lore when the Broncos drove 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation and Denver kicker Rich Karlis kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime.
So we are in California the week of the super bowl and it is media day. There were two representatives from each country and I’m doing interviews with reporters and English translator, I thought that was so cool.
However, running out there on the field before the game started and seeing all those flash bulbs going all, made me realize how big the moment was and all of a sudden I became real nervous.
After getting the first play under my belt I relaxed a little. The game had begun.
Many, many, years ago when my disease had me by the throat, and I couldn’t breath any more, I contacted the NFL.
I told them I needed help. That was a major undertaking to ask for help. No one wants to admit they need help however; they answered the phone.
I was asked two questions:
- Did I have any money?
- Did I have any insurance?
My answer to both questions was “no” to both questions.
I was told there is nothing we can do for you except give you $10,000 from your retirement money. There was “No, let’s see what we can do or here is a number you can call”. Like there is today.
I can’t tell you how hopeless, devastated and lonely, I felt when I hung up the phone. I received the money and I didn’t put to good use.
This was over 20 years ago and since then the NFL has made some huge strides in getting former players the help they need. The NFL Players Association and other non-profit agency help. I am so grateful to God I am not that person anymore and I don’t live that way anymore. Blessed.
When I was going to get baptized in Atlanta, I had another funny story about my experience with my church family and my spiritual mentor. My spiritual mentor who is all of 5’8 180 lbs., was chosen to baptize me. Everyone was taking bets whether I would drown him when he baptizes me. Remember, I not 5’8”or 180 lbs. So instead of leaning back into the water and bringing me up, he had me get on my knees and he lean me forward. I still laugh when I think about it. Greg Harper is his name and he played a big part of my life when I was in Atlanta, I became part of his family. It is funny how time flies. His two daughters and son were just kids back then and now his two daughters are married and his son a senior at the University of Georgia.
1999 was the beginning of my journey into recovery was after many years of feeling sorry for myself, dealing with shame guilt, ego, and living with my addiction. I found myself falling in the same trap of trying to find a job, that would make me feel the way I felt when I played football, and every time I would fail, it sunk me deeper into my addiction. Through a golfing buddy I secured a job as a salesman for a metal roofing company, no more minimal wage for me I would have my own area from West Palm to Key West I was on my way or so I thought,
I never made it out of training. I had a corporate card and the permission to put dinner and a few drinks on the card, I was an accident waiting to happen. I was in my last week of training and in Tampa, Florida. The schedule was changed and I was told by my training manager that because I had picked up everything quickly that I could celebrate a night out on the town and meet them the next day in my Miami.
I never made it out of Tampa; here is where God stepped in. After a few days of partying with total strangers, my car was stolen and I had not been in contact with my job, I found myself at a crossroad.
I could swallow my pride and call my family to bail me out like I had always done or I could do something different. It was cold that night and all I had was the clothes on my back. I had no money and I slept that night under an overpass, it was my first experience of being homeless.
I woke up the next morning and walked about 15 miles to the police station, and when I arrived I walked up to the first person I saw and told him what happen to me and that I needed help. I told this detective who I was and he just happen to be a big sports fan and he knew who I was. He told me if I really wanted help that I would be in his office the next morning at nine o’clock.
He took me to a church where I was fed and I spent the night sleeping in the pew with a bunch of other homeless people. That night I met a young man serving food and he told me that he had gave his life to Christ. He once was a drug dealer and he wanted a change. He started volunteering at the church he attend, after he found out who I was he said something to me that I had heard from several people.
What he said was that I had to let go of the fact that I had threw away an NFL career because it was killing me. The next morning I was at that police station at 8:30 a.m. to make a long story short, I spent 3 days in a detox in Tampa and from there on a plane to Atlanta into 12 month rehab called Oak Hurst. Even though I had many more years of failures with staying sober, a lot of good things happen. However; probably the best thing that happen was finding North Atlanta Church of Christ and there out reach ministry. Many years later, I looked back on that traumatic time and realized that even before I started seeking God he had my hand leading me where I needed to go.
I made some great relationships with the people of North Atlanta, like the pastor of the church Don McLaughlin and his family, which I stay in contact with and visit every time I get a chance. I have had some great experiences that I will share at a later time.