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NFL Great Cris Carter Talks Addiction, Recovery at DeSales

by Janelle Hill Apr 29, 2019

Cris Carter has been sober for more than 28 years. But the NFL hall of famer is the first to admit that he’s still in the fight of his life. 

“I happen to be a recovering drug addict and an alcoholic. I’m very, very proud of that,” Carter told a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and community members during DeSales Cares: An Evening with Cris Carter on Addictions and Support. 

Carter grew up in a low-income family in Ohio. His mother was kicked out of high school after getting pregnant at 17, and she went on to have seven kids before the age of 25.

As a child, Carter exceled in sports and always wanted to be a professional athlete. He went on to play football for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the thrill of his life came in 1987, when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him. But while he was making a name for himself in football, he was battling addiction off the field. 

“People say success changes you; it doesn’t. It just enhances everything you deem to be important.” 

Carter would hang out and get high in Camden, even buying drugs while wearing an Eagles hat. After games, he would party all night and show up to work the next morning still wearing the same clothes. Most of his fellow teammates didn’t know about his struggle, but coach Buddy Ryan did. On Labor Day in 1990, Ryan made the controversial decision to cut Carter.

“I was just emerging to become a star in the NFL and Buddy Ryan looked me in the eye and told me he didn’t trust me. As soon as I got in my car on that hot day, I remember driving across the Walt Whitman Bridge crying like a third grader. But Buddy Ryan did me the greatest favor anyone could ever do.” 

The Minnesota Vikings quickly picked up Carter’s contract, but they made it mandatory for him to go to two AA meetings every week. He was drug tested three times a week for eight years. One slip, he said, and he would have been banned from the league. But he stayed clean and ended up playing for 16 years, becoming one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. 

“When you go through addiction, you break so many people’s hearts,” he said. “It took me a long time to get my life together. But I was able to do it.” 

Today, Carter partners with Ambrosia Treatment Center to share his story and help inspire those struggling with addiction. He’s helped friends, family members, and even fellow NFL players throughout the years. His goal is to get as many people into rehab as possible because he knows, better than anyone, that addicts are never cured. 

“I’ll tell you when it’s going to be cured—when they put your name on a tombstone. I’ve got a cure date—when I’m dead. I’ve got 28 years, seven months, and four days of success. But tomorrow I’ve got to fight for my life.”