November 06, 2008
Golfer John Daly certainly isn't the only professional athlete whose career has been damaged by the effects of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Daly, who recently was detained by police in North Carolina after being found drunk outside of a Hooters, seems to be continuing on a path that has led other athletes to lose their livelihood, or even their life.
Here is a list — one that is too long, yet not long enough — of athletes whose accomplishments on the field of play were eclipsed by excesses off it. Note that track and field and cycling are omitted. We don't have all year:
Len Bias: The ultimate cautionary tale of athletes and drugs, so horrible that no baller ever snorted blow again. Well, sorry to say, that's not so. The Boston Celtics took Bias with the second pick in the 1986 NBA Draft expecting he would sustain their aging dynasty. Instead, he died of a cocaine overdose less than 48 hours after shaking David Stern's hand at Madison Square Garden. Bias' death put his family in ruins and signaled the beginning of the Celtics two-decade-long ice age.
Roy Tarpley: Four of the top seven picks in the '86 draft (Tarpley was No. 7) had his career ruined by substance abuse. Banned from the league a second time in 1995, Tarpley (an alcoholic) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission successfully sued the NBA in 2007 for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Odell Thurman, a former linebacker with the Cincinnati Bengals, is taking a similar tack.
Micheal Ray Richardson: The Knicks made him the fourth pick in the 1978 draft and he led the league in steals three times before Stern banned him for life in 1986 because of drugs. Richardson played in Europe and coached in the minor leagues and caused a minor stir in 2007 because of anti-gay comments, along with other remarks some considered anti-semitic but most just found amusing.
Chris Andersen: Just to show that substance abuse in the NBA isn't lost to ancient history, the Nuggets forward was banned in 2006 for testing positive for a drug "of abuse" (not a performance-enhancer or marijuana) and sat out more than two years before being reinstated this past spring. "The Birdman" also missed his first eight attempts at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 2004. Couldn't get high enough?
Vin Baker: The eighth pick of the '93 draft made four consecutive All-Star teams before alcoholism drowned his career. He was arrested for drunken driving in 2007, and a restaurant business, along with a home in his native Connecticut, were foreclosed on this year. Now, some better news: Andy Katz on ESPN reports that Baker says he is on the verge of signing a deal to play in China.
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Don Rogers: A whole eight days after Bias died, Rogers, a safety for the Cleveland Browns, died because his heart stopped beating due to cocaine poisoning. The 23-year-old was to be married later that week. Rogers was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year after being selected 18th overall pick in '84. Surely, his demise would be a lesson to his younger brother, Reggie.
Reggie Rogers: Nope. Rogers, the seventh pick in the '87 draft and a defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions, killed three teen-age boys — Kenneth J. Willet, Kelly Ess and Dale R. Ess — in a car crash while driving under the influence of alcohol. Rogers fractured his neck, had part of a thumb severed, along with numerous cuts and bruises. He served 12 1/2 months of a of a 16-to-24-month sentence before trying to pick up the pieces of his football career, which ended in 1992.
Leonard Little: Ten years ago, Little was a rookie with the St. Louis Rams when he drove while intoxicated, running a stoplight and crashing his car into that of Susan Gutweiler, who was killed. Little pleaded guilty to manslaughter and reportedly served 90 days of "shock time" in jail along with 1,000 hours of community service. That didn't stop him from speeding, being pulled over and failing three field sobriety tests in a 2005 incident. The judge let him off easy. He ranks sixth in active players in sacks.
Matt Jones: Busted in July for possession of cocaine and marijuana, the Jacksonville wideout is to enter a drug-treatment program that could erase a felony charge against him. Jones in October was suspended three games by the NFL but is appealing the ruling. A quarterback in college, Jones already has a career-high 45 receptions. So, maybe the jury is out on how much his career has been hurt by drugs. Reputation, sure. And probably his nostrils.
Travis Henry: Just last month, Henry pleaded not guilty to federal cocaine trafficking charges. He was a second-round pick in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl for the Buffalo Bills a season later after scoring 13 touchdowns. After some down seasons, he rushed for over 1,200 yards for the Tennessee Titans in '06. With Denver in '07, Henry led the league in rushing after four weeks, but injuries and a four-week suspension for a positive marijuana test signaled the beginning of the end.
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Steve Howe: The National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 1981 is infamous in the athlete/drugs circle because of his seven, count 'em, suspensions. In '89, Howe wrote in a memoir that he based his hope of recovery on becoming an evangelical Christian. Sadly, that didn't do the trick. It was reported that he had meth in his system when his pickup truck drifted off a desert road and crashed in 2006.
Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden: They just go together. Both came up with the Mets in the early '80s. Both were, at given moments, among the very best in baseball. Both had many demons and used drugs that cannibalized their careers. How many home runs did coke cost Straw? Three-hundred? Gooden also had arm trouble, but alcohol and cocaine aren't ingested through the rotator cuff.
Josh Hamilton: His story is still fresh in the collective public consciousness, but that doesn't make it any less amazing. Hamilton's recovery continues with the Texas Rangers, hopefully happily ever after.
Josh Hancock: An awful story that only would have been worse if someone else had died. Police reported that Hancock, a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, was legally drunk, had marijuana in his car and was talking on his mobile phone when he fatally plowed into the back of a tow truck in 2007. Hancock's family sued the restaurant that Hancock left, the tow-truck driver and his company, along with the motorist the driver was assisting. They later dropped the suits, and other reports surfaced that Hancock showed other signs of alcoholism.
Barry Bonds: It's been at least 10 minutes since someone mentioned Bonds, the game's exiled career home run leader, who was the baritone in baseball's steroid opera. Bonds admitted to a grand jury that he used what turned out to be steroids, though he also said he didn't know what it was trainer Greg Anderson was giving him.
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Theo Fleury: A mighty mouse of hockey, Fleury usually was the smallest player on the ice, but that didn't stop him (it actually encouraged him) to play as physical as anyone in the NHL. He scored 455 goals, had more than 1,800 penalty minutes in 1,084 career NHL games, but he also has a legacy in international play with Team Canada. Fleury also drank — a lot; he was released by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003 after he admitted his own aftercare violation. That was his last stop in the NHL. Also an admitted cocaine user, Fleury was given the cruel nickname "Crackhead Theo" for, well, you might be able to guess. How he survived to operate a successful concrete coating business, who knows?
Bob Probert: Being one of the game's all-time tough guys wasn't enough for Probert, a Detroit winger who repeatedly smuggled cocaine back and forth into Canada. He was caught doing so twice in three weeks in 1989 and was banned by the NHL, but not forever. Probert's career persisted, as did drug and alcohol problems, and he's still fighting substance abuse today.
Pelle Lindbergh: He was 26 years old and a top goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985 when he crashed his sports car into a concrete wall, receiving injuries from which he soon would die. He reportedly had a .24 alcohol content in his blood. Lindbergh, who was from Sweden, had won the Vezina Trophy the season before, being the first European to do so. Steve Chaisson, in 1999, died in a similar way.
John Kordic: Probert had some hockey skills. Kordic was a straight-up goon, an alcoholic who used cocaine and took steroids to make him fight harder. Living a tormented life from an early age, Kordic died of heart and lung failure in 1992, at age 27, following a struggle with no fewer than nine police officers in a Quebec hotel room.
Mark Bell: After a promising start to his career with the Chicago Blackhawks, Bell finds himself in the minors after a drunken driving hit-and-run conviction in 2007. The NHL also suspended him.