Professional athletes are continually misunderstood for their issues outside of their sport.

They get paid millions a year for playing a game, so why should they have psychological issues, emotional problems, and as alarming, particularly because athletes are supposed to be health conscious, drug problems?

Drugs, of course, play a significant role in nearly every sport. Name the event, and a drug will more than likely be there.

American football has had its share of drug abuses among the players. The NFL, which oversees football, continues to have its hands full with the near-constant drug-related violations that goes on within the league.

Within the NFL, sports and drugs have had a strong and suspicious presence for decades. From the 1920s and 30s when pain treatments were rumored to involve arsenic or heroin, to now, in which players in some cases, double as dealers, the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, continue to put the pressure on addicted players who violate league rules, while attempting to maintain a positive spin on professional football.

The issue is the drug problem within the NFL may be larger than the league itself.

In the following section, we’ll profile five touted and well-respected football players whose careers and to a degree, off-field lives, have succumbed to drug use and abuse.


Status: Retired

Age: 50

Position: Receiver

Team: Minnesota Vikings

Cris Carter’s football career began like so many others: in a park, playing in the pee-wee football leagues.

Carter was later a phenom at Ohio State University, and in 1987, went on to begin a career as a wide out for the Philadelphia Eagles. Problem was, Carter had a lazy attitude about training, particularly when he was drinking and doing cocaine.

After failing three drug tests, the Eagles waived Carter.

It was a chain of events that awakened Carter to his substance abuse, which he overcame before moving to the Minnesota Vikings.

There, Carter became teammates with ex-San Francisco 49er and Super Bowl-winning running back, Roger Craig, who beyond the rule of a substance-free life, taught Carter one more league-valuable lesson: stay in shape during the off-season.

Not only did Carter follow Craig’s advice, but with his newly found healthy lifestyle of strong workouts and sobriety, Carter went on to an extremely successful 12-year career as well as induction into the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.


Status: Inactive

Age: 23

Position: Quarterback

Team: Cleveland Browns (formerly)

Johnny Manziel burst on the scene at Texas A&M where he won the Heisman trophy – college football’s highest honor – as a freshman quarterback.

Since then, all fortuitousness has headed south, literally, for Manziel, where the last anyone’s heard from “Johnny Football” was from inside a house in Mexico whose interior was trashed along with ample evidence of drug use.

It’s not clear what drug of choice Manziel favors, but it is clear that he has a substance abuse problem highlighted by his multiple arrests, sexual battery charges, and the times he’s sworn to seek treatment.

None of that mattered to the Cleveland Browns who wound up releasing Manziel in late 2015, a little more than one year after the team drafted him as the number one pick in 2014.

So far, none of his rehab has come together, giving one the idea that Manziel just isn’t ready for the rigors, demands and responsibilities of an NFL career, let alone a drug-free life.


Status: Retired

Age: 47

Position: Quarterback

Team: Oakland Raiders

For a supposed game-changing player nicknamed “RoboQB” Todd Marinovich was the nuclear implosion that momentarily made college and pro football a laughing stock of American athletics.

Marinovich was to be the future of the quarterback position.

With an overzealous father who had Marinovich lifting weights before he could write his own name, expectations were high at the University of Southern California where Marinovich played his college ball for two years, then two more years after as a pro with the Oakland Raiders.

Problem was, during this time Marinovich was already deep in the lifestyle of a substance abuser.

His forays began in high school with pot and ecstasy, then college introduced him to heroin. Big money with the Raiders meant bigger and stronger drugs that finally destroyed his career.

Far off the radar now, Marinovich’s memory puts little more than a bad taste in any man or woman of Troy as well as members of the Raider Nation.

Funny thing is after leaving Oakland, Marinovich’s career continued for another nine years with the Canadian Football League. Not bad for a guy who at halftime would shoot heroin AND smoke crack in the locker room before heading back to the field.


Status: Retired

Age: 57

Position: Outside Linebacker

Team: New York Giants

In the late 1980s defensive game, Lawrence Taylor, also known as LT, emerged on the pitch like a freight train of unstoppable power, his mission was to flatten anything in his way.

Just ask Joe Theismann, the Washington Redskins’ quarterback who had his leg bent back to his head, an injury so violent it is banned from television broadcast; all this courtesy of LT.

Well, as the tale goes, while LT was breaking QB legs, booze and drugs were breaking LT.

His drug tests in 1987 rendered him positive for cocaine use, and in 1988, LT decided on a repeat performance in which he again tested positive.

Needing to avoid a third strike after his first two positives, LT went clean until his retirement in 1995.

But while the game was over for the linebacker, the abuse wasn’t.

For a while, LT was in and out of rehab as much as he was in and out of a quarterback’s faceguard.

Lately, LT’s troubles have turned to patronizing underage prostitutes and leaving the scene of an accident.

Other than that, drugs haven’t been LT’s problem.

It seems like bad judgment has.


Status: Retired

Age: 39

Position: Running Back

Team: New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins,

Ricky Williams was just cool. The UT Austin running back came up in the 1999 NFL draft, sporting dreadlocks that are now de rigueur for almost all sporting events.

Ricky Williams was also a strong runner, who, aside from some of the others mentioned in this article, took his drug use to a level other people can truly learn from.

Williams’ drug of choice was weed. In fact, weed was so much a part of Williams’ world, he elected to leave football rather than stop smoking it.

Why? He realized a higher power in the drug.

As a matter of fact, when Williams retired in 2004, he went on to study holistic medicine.

Of course, the lifestyle of a holistic medicine student is a few rungs down from that of an NFL running back, and Williams, having missed the niceties a football paycheck buys, returned to the sport.

Problem is his puffing put him back on the black list and in 2005, Williams was bounced once again.


It can be easy for us “normal folks” to revel a bit at multi-million dollar athletes who fall from grace, particularly from drugs.

As is the case with entertainers, politicians and other high-profile people, a bit of schadenfreude takes over our judgment to the point where we applaud the fallen.

After all, here they are, making boatloads of cash for playing a game, and they can’t even keep that gig going?

Well, judgment is not what any person suffering from addiction needs. Instead, they need our understanding and support.

Like any profession that requires high efforts to obtain lofty goals, sports are no different. There’s pressure – tons of pressure, and it can add up for some who, despite their great ability, are no more or less human than you and I.

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5 NFL Players Whose Playing Careers and Lives Were Affected by Drugs