Keith McCants is remembered among many Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as a disappointment. Drafted with the fourth overall pick in 1990, the Alabama star played for three years with the Bucs, on a bum leg and mostly out of position. But McCants has become one of my favorite Buccaneers over the recent years, simply because of his story and how he has talked about the destructive effects that the NFL had on his life. Which is what he did in this VICE Sports video.
"One of the coaches made the statement that one of the doctors said 'McCants ain't gonna last five years', he said 'We're only gonna need him for three," McCants tells VICE. "Before it was over with I was consuming over 183 pills a week, not knowing the effects it had on my liver or my kidneys. Or, more importantly, developing a split personality with violent tendencies that my family had to deal with."
"It triggered something in you, you become more violent, you become more angry and you become a different player on the field. And they love that. But when you take it home with you, when you take it into society, when you take it to the public, 'oh you're an embarrassment to the team.' 'Oh, you can't do this, oh you can't do that.' Well then you should [..] see where this thing stems from. What about all this stuff you've given me? And you threaten that if I don't take it, that you're going to get rid of me because I can't play with the pain."
McCants has spoken about his struggles with painkillers, drugs and money, most notably in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Broke. And in all of his talks, there's a lot of anger and sadness at the way the NFL and the Buccaneers chewed him up until he was of no use to them, and then dropped him like a rock. It's powerful, and it's not a side of those star players we see a lot.
"People root for these people every day," McCants said. "Every week. All season long. And not knowing the effects that they have on that individual, or his family, or his loved ones, or his wife, or his children. And then we commit suicide. How many times I stuck a gun in my mouth? How many times I tried to OD? How many times I [..] hung myself? How many times I lose the will to live? Do anybody care? Well I choose to live, and I choose to spread the message. Any way, shape or form I can do it."
Go watch the video. Then watch and read all of the other VICE Sports coverage on the way painkiller abuse affects these players, and how the NFL abets that problem. Because this a serious issue that we really don't talk about very often. And oftentimes the way we talk about injuries, about "soft" players and about playing through injury, terms like "dinged up" and "got the wind knocked out of him, even the way we talk about concussions -- all of that helps create an atmosphere where we think of players as super-human machines who go out there to fight for a team we identify with. And that's when we lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, those players pay a real physical and mental cost for all of that abuse.