The glitz and glamour of life in the spotlight is often the dream of many. Having the fame, the fortune and what appears to be everything a person could want, a professional athlete is often the envy of the common folk. However, what seems as perfection in the limelight often comes with chinks in the armor in reality.
Throughout the history of athletics, stars have risen and fallen at the expense of their own decisions. Whether it is a battle with addiction or the desire to get a leg up on the competition, a professional athlete’s drug habit creates vulnerability to career-ending chaos.
There are many top athletes who have found themselves suspended due to drug use. While the consequences of their actions have ranged from missed games to the loss of life, there is no guarantee in the severity of the punishments they may face. Exploring the drug-induced demise of these top athletes suspended for drug use reveals how poor choices will almost certainly outlast peak performance.
Michael Phelps (Olympic Swimming)
Michael Phelps, famous American Olympic swimmer and team captain, is well known for his large collection of Olympic medals. Having participated in five Olympic Games, and finding victory in four of them, Phelps is one of the most well-decorated Olympians of all time.
Unfortunately, Phelps’ career has been overshadowed by a dark cloud due to repeated legal issues involving the use of drugs and alcohol. In 2004, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was placed on probation and ordered to complete a series of community-based projects in exchange for his guilty plea.
In 2009, right after a successful 2008 summer Olympics performance, a photograph of Phelps smoking marijuana from a bong at a college party surfaced and made its way into the public light. This incident was the beginning of his behaviors affecting his swimming career. Phelps lost a sponsor over the photograph and was issued a three-month suspension by the governing body for swimming in the United States, USA Swimming.
After his fourth Olympic Games, Phelps retired from competitive swimming for the first time. Shortly after, in 2014, Phelps found himself in legal hot water once again, when he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol for the second time. The penalty for this incident resulted in the three-month suspension getting doubled by USA Swimming. Phelps was forbidden from joining the United States team in the 2015 World Aquatics Championship.
Darryl Strawberry (Baseball)
As the first overall pick in the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, then winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1983, and being voted to the All-Star Game for eight straight years (1984-1991), Darryl Strawberry was on the road to be a shoo-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A star of the 1986 World Series Championship team, Strawberry had everything going his way. Unfortunately, what was visible in his professional baseball career was just a partial view of Strawberry’s world. At 29 years of age, his personal life began to infiltrate his professional career. His abuse of cocaine became public, and his battle with drugs and alcohol came to the forefront in his life, putting his career on the back burner and jeopardizing his legacy.
As his baseball career came to a crashing halt, Strawberry found himself soaring with legal issues, from accusations of criminal assaults to tax evasion. He spent time in rehabilitation in 1990, but his drug use continued to lead his life into turmoil.
Throughout his career, Strawberry’s involvement in drugs would lead him to be suspended by Major League Baseball multiple times. He was never welcomed into the Hall of Fame despite an impressive start to his career.
Dwight Gooden (Baseball)
As a teammate of Darryl Strawberry with the New York Mets in the 1980’s, Dwight Gooden also started off his career hell-bent on being a sure pick into the baseball Hall of Fame. Drafted in 1982 in the first round, Gooden didn’t wait long before being called up into the big leagues. His first debut in the Major Leagues was at the young age of 19.
Also crowned the Rookie of the Year in his inaugural season, Gooden was following in Strawberry’s footsteps. Unfortunately, these familiar footsteps also included the walk towards demise due to drug use. After winning the Cy Young award in 1985, the youngest athlete ever to accomplish the feat, he started showing signs of disturbing behavior.
Following the World Series championship in 1986, after helping achieve victory, Gooden was absent from the team’s celebratory victory parade. It was later learned that Gooden was enthralled in a cocaine binge, which resulted in a drug-induced paranoia that kept him away from the celebration.
Gooden tested positive for cocaine on more than one occasion during his career, ultimately resulting in a 60-day suspension in 1994. During this suspension, another positive test result kept him out of the entire following season. Gooden’s cocaine habit took over his career – a career that would have likely resulted in a Hall of Fame induction.
Len Bias (Basketball)
While the names listed above are distinguished and the impact of their stories may be well known, they are not necessarily the most influential athlete to fall victim to drug use and the consequences of such choices. A young American athlete by the name of Len Bias changed the way the War on Drugs in America is fought still today.
Bias, drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1986, never had a chance to step on the floor of the Boston Garden to fulfill his dream. Instead of joining the likenesses of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, within hours of hearing his name called out in the draft and getting his first product contract, Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose at the age of 22.
Bias’ death triggered Congressional action to combat the drug epidemic. Congress passed the Len Bias law, which is still used today to combat the distribution of illegal drugs. The law created mandatory minimum sentences for those who distribute drugs that result in the death or serious injury to those who use the drug.
These top athletes suspended from their sport because of drug use is only a sample of a larger epidemic. Behind each of these stories are countless more of similar circumstances.
Despite the reasons why drugs come to reign supreme over prosperous athletic potential, many athletes lose their careers and lives to drugs. They miss out on lifelong goals and dreams for the high they chase. They lose contracts, money, and sometimes pay the ultimate price. They disappoint and let down their fans. They dishearten those who idolize them, from grown adults to young children wanting to follow in their footsteps.
Did you know an addiction can be caused by a mental disorder?
One of the primary reasons that mental disorders and substance abuse so often go hand-in-hand is that drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from the pressures of mental health problems. Self-medicating is surprisingly common: you’re not alone.
But unlike real, effective, long-term solutions, such as medication and detoxification in a treatment center, drugs and alcohol won’t amount to effective treatment.
If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from addiction, then take our free 3 minute assessment.