Cocaine arrived in my life with my first-round draft into the National Football League in 1974. It has dominated my life, one way or another, almost every minute since. Eventually, it took control and almost killed me. It may yet. Cocaine can be found in quantity throughout the NFL. It's pushed on players, often from the edge of the practice field. Sometimes it's pushed by players. Prominent players. Just as it controlled me, it now controls and corrupts the game, because so many players are on it. To ignore this fact is to be shortsighted and stupid. To turn away from it the way the NFL does—the way the NFL turned its back on me when I cried for help two years ago—is a crime...
...Users call cocaine "the lady." The lady has a widespread acceptance in the best of circles. However, those of us who are—or were—hooked can tell you it's no lady. And until I am cured, I consider myself hooked. Even now, talking about it makes me want it. I can feel the familiar signals going through my body, making my heart beat faster.
I am 30 years old, and desperate. A 6'6", 280-pound desperate man who should have known better. Who knew better, because I was raised better. Six weeks ago I took myself out of society (and out of football, which I don't intend to play again) to a rehabilitation hospital where help was available, and I think, I pray, I've seen the light. But to see it, I had to see a lot more.
I had to see myself depicted in the press and on television and everywhere else as a drug dealer, even if my dealing was a silly one-shot kind of deal that was more naive than evil.
I had to see the jailhouse door slammed shut, and know I wouldn't walk free again for a year. As bad as that was, it still didn't cure me. I got worse after I was freed.
I had to see my family shy from me, the wife I doubt I could live without grow disgusted, the mother and father I love and respect grow ashamed. I had to see players I considered close friends go through the same deterioration, their lives messed up, their talent blowing away.
I saw my own fortune wasted—thousands and thousands of dollars, down the drain. I now know the embarrassment of hiding from creditors, of having checks bounce and cars repossessed. I was like a man at his own funeral as my career as a defensive lineman went from what I thought was the brink of All-Pro in 1979 to the edge of oblivion in 1981.
And I saw more. I saw the dark side of the drug world, from a frightening perspective. Twice I looked down the barrel of a loaded gun, held by men who said they would kill me if I didn't pay the debts I owed. Debts for cocaine. At this writing, I owe drug dealers $30,000, and there's a bullet scar in my home in New Orleans because one dealer tried to scare me into paying. I couldn't pay.
I now see myself as a miserable human being, not worth a damn. I reached the point where I really wanted to die. To kill myself. One night in Miami I went into the streets looking for enough heroin to do the job. Other times I put the barrel of my own gun into my mouth, and practiced pulling the trigger.
Here's what it's like to be a big-time football player in America and screwed up: In New Orleans, where the drugs got to be so bad in 1980, I began getting blackouts in my thinking. Like climbing a ladder with rungs missing. I couldn't hold conversations without my mind going off somewhere. I thought I was losing it. I was in a stupor much of the time. I had no conception of day and night. My little boys, Myron Paul, 7, and Philip Charles, 2, are crazy about me. Every morning they would come and jump on me in bed, playing on me like little deer. I would remember them doing that, and I wouldn't be aware of anything else until they came and jumped on me again at four in the afternoon.