Stanton reviews the strange tales of five prominent athletes whose recovery stories are the most troubling.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, 6 August 2000

The Five Greatest Recovering Athlete Stories

Stanton Peele


Here are the most disturbing and challenging recovery stories among prominent athletes.

  1. Darryl Strawberry
    Darryl Strawberry
    Darryl Strawberry. Darryl has been through the ringer. He has serious problems — the worst of which has been a reappearance of colon cancer. But many of his problems have been of his own making, including spousal abuse and tax evasion. For a guy who has made multimillions, he is deeply in debt, partly because of IRS penalties and partly due to children he has with both an ex-wife and a former lover (he has been charged with failure to pay child and spousal support), along with repeat suspensions from his multimillion dollar job as a baseball player (most recently with the New York Yankees). Darryl has been suspended three times from major league baseball — significantly, in each case, before the season starts. The last time, he was scheduled to present a keynote address to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence convention when he was arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute, following which he flunked another drug test (thank God he wasn't in Moderation Management — Darryl is a longtime devotee of AA and the disease theory, as well as a born-again Christian). Darryl was then called to task for joining a sex club, which violated the conditions of his probation. He trumped this charge by announcing his cancer relapse.

    Stanton's evaluation: Like all those cited here, Darryl didn't learn how to be a real adult, due to a deprived upbringing combined with people lavishing things on him because of his skills. Darryl is the best example of someone who swears to the highest powers — Christianity and the 12 steps — while repeatedly falling off the wagon. Also, the most gifted athlete in this group — he could have been somebody superduper — which makes his perpetual malfeasance the most tragic story of the lot.

  2. Denny McLain
    Denny McLain
    Denny McLain. In 1968, McClain became the last major league baseball pitcher to win 30 games. But he quickly descended into high jinks and legal trouble. He became involved in cocaine dealing, and in 1985 he was sentenced to 23 years in prison on drug and racketeering charges. McClain was released due to improper trial procedures after serving two and a half years. He then made the recovery circuit, and had a recovery radio program on which he interviewed Stanton in 1989. But McClain had several more run-ins with the law. In 1993, McClain purchased a meat-packing firm; in 1996 he was convicted of stealing millions from its pension plan — that's an eight year sentence in a federal pen. Interviewed there — like Strawberry (who denied after he pleaded that he was soliciting a prostitute and carrying cocaine, and more recently that he was doing anything wrong at the sex club), McClain denied all — "I didn't do this. I had nothing to do with this. Not one damn thing. I'm here for no reason." Among those not buying McClain's story were his second wife — who divorced him after the conviction — and his daughter: "You just don't go to jail the second time around for a crime you didn't commit. This innocent person can't be thrown in jail all the time."

    Stanton's evaluation: A real game player; a man who never took anything or anyone seriously, yet who was welcomed with open arms on the recovery circuit.
  3. Mercury Morris
    Eugene Morris
    Mercury Morris. Morris may be the strangest story of all. Eugene "Mercury" Morris, a star running back and kick returner on the Miami Dolphins' Super Bowl teams of the 1970s, pleaded guilty to selling cocaine to a federal undercover narcotics agent in 1982. After serving three years in prison, Morris joined the recovery circuit and made speeches and videos on the dangers of drugs. Somewhere along the line, however, he recanted from recovery, and began claiming that he had not really been a cocaine addict. Thus he lost his recovery gigs and he hasn't been very visible for ten years now.

    Stanton's evaluation: Morris is an example of how claiming one has a disease and is in recovery is really as much of a denial of responsibility as claiming you didn't take drugs in the first place — like all the athletes here, entering recovery did nothing to make Morris into an adult who can own up to his behavior.

  4. Art Schlichter
    Art Schlichter
    Art Schlichter. Schlichter was a first round draft choice as a quarterback coming out of Ohio State in 1982; what's more, he enjoyed an image so wholesome his biography was titled Straight Arrow. But Schlichter gambled away his $350,000 signing bonus during his rookie season with the Baltimore Colts. He was suspended and reinstated the next year, after declaring he had the disease of compulsive gambling for which he had gotten help. In 1985, he was cut by the Colts and never played football again. If success started Schlichter's addiction, failure really fueled it. In 1988 he declared bankruptcy, referring frequently to his disease. Schlichter's ex-wife, Mitzi Schlichter, helped found the Custer Gambling Treatment Center in Indianapolis after she left her husband in 1994. Schlichter, meanwhile, has spent four of the six years since then in prison. In 1997, he was pulled out of a court-ordered gambling treatment program and hauled back to jail when he was caught betting. Schlichter is currently awaiting trial on money laundering charges and stealing credit cards, all revolving around taking money, often from family members, in order to gamble.

    Stanton's evaluation: Schlichter is an example of how bad values and addiction often coalesce. Schlichter takes no responsibility for his misbehavior — and, despite harping on his disease and although his wife created her own gambling treatment center, Schlichter has never shown any inclination to fly straight.

  5. John Daly
    John Daly
    John Daly. Go figure Daly. Daly won two major golf championships at a very young age, but his game soon declined in a series of disputes and blow-ups at major tournaments. Daly then declared he was an alcoholic; he now claims he was coerced into saying he was an alcoholic. Of course, this was some attempt to account for his meteoric behavior on the golf course, which continued throughout his sobriety period. Daly does seem to drink beer noncompulsively, according to eyewitness accounts. But John is a very immoderate person in general. He was doing well in the first round of the 2000 U.S Open Championship (the one Tiger Woods won by a record margin), when he blew up on the eighteenth hole, taking 14 strokes. Daly frequently goes postal in tough situations. In 1999 at the U.S. Open, Daly was actually leading going into the final round when he scored 11 on the eighth hole, and went downhill from there (finishing last among those who had qualified for the final cut). It was after this that his sponsor, Callaway Golf, dropped Daly because he had resumed drinking and gambling. Callaway had picked Daly up after he attended Betty Ford (although Daly's wife left him immediately on his return home from Ford — what did she know?). When he was then discovered to be gambling immoderately, he explained, "When I quit drinking, I started gambling. It's called cross-addiction." (Who says you can't learn a lot at Betty Ford?) Daly then signed a $10 million contract with Callaway, whose chairman, in Daly's words, "made my gambling debts go away. I wouldn't have to worry about them."

    Stanton's evaluation: Somehow, being a skilled athlete has prevented Daly from learning what it means to keep himself under control. Although he is deeply immature, Daly may not actually be a bad guy, and I suspect he will fade into the sunset — if he can find some way to make a living when he no longer plays the tour.

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