The High Stakes of Athletes and Alcoholism
Famous athletes who battled with alcoholism isn’t a new story. It’s widely known that Babe Ruth had a huge appetite for many things, including home runs and booze, but it didn’t seem to affect his home run count. Ironically, much of it came during prohibition, which might account for some of its secrecy.
Years later, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle went down the same path as Ruth to become a legend on the field in the sixties, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic.
What sets those two apart from today’s crowd is many people turned a blind eye to their sports heroes back then, and we didn’t have the immediacy, or reach, of today’s internet and ubiquitous media coverage.
Toady, when an athlete has a problem, we all find out about it, making it more difficult to hide from public scrutiny. This ultimately adds additional stress to keep it under wraps and deal with the demons.
It’s estimated that some 15 million Americans suffer from alcoholism or alcohol dependence. Since professional athletes are normal people, albeit with exceptional skills, it should come as no surprise that this population suffers from its fair share of addiction and mental health issues.
5 Athletes That Have Publicly Struggled with Alcoholism and Addiction
1. CC Sabathia, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, took a knee this season and came forward with his drinking problems. Admitting himself for treatment, Sabathia missed the playoffs. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sabathia says he told his wife, “I know if I wait, I’m not going to go. You don’t understand.”
2. Aldon Smith, a defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers, was released from the team after being charged with hit-and-run, vandalism and DUI. It was Smith’s third DUI. After receiving treatment, Smith has been playing with the Oakland Raiders during the 2015 season.
3. Alexander Ovechkin, an all-star and MVP in the National Hockey League (NHL), is known for his outlandish behavior off the rink, posting photos of his partying and most recently being visibly drunk at the NHL’s all-star draft in January.
4. Todd Marinovich, famously called “the first test-tube athlete,” was trained by his obsessive father throughout his younger life. A star athlete, Marinovich, began smoking marijuana and drinking in high school, and at the University of Southern California (USC), he moved on to harder drugs, like cocaine and heroin. Drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1991, his addictions spiraled out of control and ultimately ended his career in professional sports. Marinovich has been in and out of treatment, and now makes a living as an artist.
5. Steve Sarkisian, head coach of the USC Trojans football team, has been struggling with what many would consider alcoholism. In August, the coach spoke at a donor’s luncheon while inebriated, and in October, after players and other coaches said Sarkisian was incoherent and didn’t “look right,” he was sent home from practice and put on a leave of absence.
There are no clear statistics about how widespread alcoholism and addiction is in professional sports. But the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reports that while excessive drinking is down, 44 percent of college athletes admitted to binge drinking in 2013, with 25 percent saying they had used prescription pain medication.
In sports, the stakes are high. Many players command multi-million dollar contracts and are expected by team owners, as well as fans, to perform at the highest levels. Regardless of how well they play, athletes come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They are not immune to mental health issues or day-to-day stressors that can drive destructive behavior and lead to addiction.
The effort it takes for anyone, not just professional athletes, to ask for help is phenomenal. Addiction does not discriminate, though, and getting treatment for alcoholism and drug misuse can be very effective and result in a happy, healthy, sober life.
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