Keith McCants, Football Star Laid Low by Drugs, Dies at 53

In N.F.L. parlance, Keith McCants was a “can’t miss.” A relentless and highly effective athlete, he was a first-team all-American linebacker at Alabama and was drafted fourth total in 1990 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His success seemingly assured, the crew made him the highest-paid defensive participant within the league.

But McCants quickly turned recognized by a much less flattering N.F.L. moniker: “draft bust.” Days after being chosen by the Buccaneers, he had knee surgical procedure. A 12 months later, he needed to be taught a brand new place when he was moved from linebacker to defensive finish. The accidents and frustrations mounted as he tried to fulfill folks’s outsized expectations.

His promise unfulfilled, the Buccaneers launched McCants after three years. He spent three extra seasons with the Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals earlier than he left the league, his cash and superstar diminished. What remained was an overwhelming habit to painkillers, and finally to different medication, that consumed the remainder of McCants’s life and turned him right into a cautionary story.

After a long time of drug abuse, quite a few arrests, dozens of surgical procedures and years residing on the road — all punctuated by transient stretches of sobriety — McCants was discovered useless early Thursday morning at his residence in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 53.

The trigger seemed to be a drug overdose, however Amanda Sinni, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, mentioned the division was awaiting a report from the health worker’s workplace.

In and out of rehabilitation and wanting to share his story to warn others away from medication, McCants all however predicted his demise in 2015, when he was interviewed by The New York Times.

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transcript

Keith McCants on His Career, Addiction and Redemption

During six seasons within the N.F.L., Keith McCants turned hooked on painkillers, and later went to jail, lived on the road and battled despair. He was interviewed by The New York Times on this 2015 video.

McCants Script

KEITH: (slurring)I’ve blended feelings about draft day. It’s very vif-, troublesome to recollect element of a element

KEITH: I went in with a nasty leg, and I got here out worse than ever, and if I knew what I knew right this moment, I wouldn’t have completed it.

KEITH: the NFL th-, they know what they gonna do earlier than they do it. They’re very effectively organized, it simply it’s like uh, organized crime

KEITH: and since I had a giant wage, I used to be compelled to play. I used to be compelled to be on the sector, and that, and any-, by any means essential get McCants on the sector. People come see him play. We don’t pay him to take a seat on the bench, not that sort of cash.

KEITH: My expectations, at twenty-one years previous, was to get on the sector and show that I ought to have been the primary choose.

KEITH: If I used to be bodily capable of do it, it might have been no downside, however I did it with the assistance of treatment

KEITH: fter having surgical procedure and being compelled to be on the market earlier than my time, it obtained worse and worse.. it obtained worse and worse. Then the ache drugs begin kickin’ in-, then the ache treatment(?) began kickin’ in, then the photographs began coming.

KEITH: I turned and addict, I turned a junkie.

KEITH: . I didn’t do as great-,, pretty much as good as I shoulda’ completed within the NFL, however I did fairly good-, I did fairly rattling good

KEITH: some folks say I used to be a bust. Well, I play that, I play out of the place, and I did it effectively, and on high of that I did it on one leg.

KEITH: however that’s after I had a breaking level, and after I jumped off the boat, shattered my knee and couldn’t um-, bodily, I couldn’t now not work or, maintain a job. My physique had deteriorated. I didn’t, that I do know it was degenerative bone illness,

KEITH: and fifteen surgical procedures on this knee, 4 over right here, and (Sigh), and you already know (Unclear) the, the dangerous days and good days. That’s when the despair set in and despair is the third largest killer on the earth. I got here residence (exhausting to grasp) suicide and couldn’t be trusted.

KEITH: in that frame of mind, I used to be misplaced. I used to be-, I didn’t know who Keith McCants was. I n-, by no means know I existed. If Keith McCants was not vital, I used to be only a human being on the earth, attempting to, suppose of-, attempting to make it to the following day. Wondering what I’m gonna eat, questioning what I’m gonna do, questioning the place I’m gonna get my subsequent excessive, that is what Keith McCants was.

KEITH: Iwas plastered all around the nationwide tv – Keith McCants smoke crack pipe in entrance of the police, Keith McCants pimping soliciting prostitutes, Keith McCants getting arrested once more.

KEITH: , I’m not felony. (Laughs) I’m not an actual felony. I simply (Unclear) to suppress my ache, and doubtless get me-, get-, get me via the day, so I’m gonna go on and do all this. I might have purchased medication from the police, it didn’t matter I used to be in a lot ache.

KEITH: my momma left on her dying mattress, I used to be locked up in jail, 2011, June 1st. I used to be locked up, I couldn’t get out, she died June the first, I obtained
out June third.

KEITH: however I’m uh inform you a narrative. When I used to be in Alabama jail jail, folks don’t even re-, notice it, folks don’t even know, I used to be in jail jail. I hung myself,

KEITH: as a result of I knew it was gonna harm my household. I didn’t need to have the ability to reside with the ache. You know after I say-, after I say you cowl the ache up, I’d reasonably be useless that to undergo this. I took my mattress off, I tied it up on the-, on the rack, I put it round my neck and I hung myself. (Audio will get muffled as he demonstrates) I fell down unconsciously. Three weeks later I went to a (Unclear) restoration. Two, three weeks later, and this man, was up there. He mentioned, Mr. McCants you owe me a hug. I thought he was only a common previous Alabama fan. I mentioned OK I obtained ya. I say OK I feel I do know you. He mentioned you don’t know me. I used to be like, OK, uh, uh I feel I do know-, after I obtained to him, I hugged him, he hugged actual tight, and he mentioned um, now I’ll inform you the place I do know you-, you already know me from. I’m the one who took you down if you hung your self, and I prayed to god that you just lived, and also you rose up. (Choked up),

During six seasons within the N.F.L., Keith McCants turned hooked on painkillers, and later went to jail, lived on the road and battled despair. He was interviewed by The New York Times on this 2015 video.CreditCredit…Josh Ritchie for The New York Times

“I live one day at a time; I’m a recovering addict,” he mentioned. “Tomorrow’s not promising. If I die today or tomorrow, I’m all right with that because I’m comfortable with me. My goal is to help people who can’t help themselves, to turn their negatives to positives, to give them hope. That’s what I sell.”

McCants didn’t simply speak about his struggles with substance abuse. He pointed the finger squarely at the N.F.L. Coaches, he mentioned, pushed gamers to carry out with out regard to their long-term well being. Team medical doctors handed out painkillers like sweet to masks accidents and get gamers on the sector. And when gamers had been unable to carry out, he mentioned, the league turned its again and targeted on youthful replacements.

“I will continue to tell the truth, how they got me hooked on drugs,” he mentioned. “I feel it’s my duty as a retired player to explain the difference between being hurt and being injured.”

McCants in a recreation towards the Indianapolis Colts in 1992, when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was with Tampa Bay for 3 seasons earlier than being launched, his promise unfulfilled.Credit…Scott Halleran/Allsport, through Getty Images

Alvin Keith McCants was born on April 19, 1968, in Mobile, Ala. His father deserted him when he was younger; he was raised by his stepfather, James Turner, who labored for town, and his mom, Cinderella Turner, a cook dinner. He is survived by two sons, Keith Jr. and David; two daughters, Aysha and Kera; two brothers, Robert and Anthony; and two sisters, Angie and Denise. He was married and divorced twice.

Widely scouted whereas at Murphy High School in Mobile, McCants enrolled at Alabama, residence to one of many nation’s premier soccer applications. He left for the professionals after his junior 12 months, a daring however contentious step at the time. He mentioned he opted out of his senior 12 months as a result of he didn’t need to threat additional accidents which may shorten his profession, and since he wanted to offer for his household whereas he may.

Some consultants predicted that McCants may have been chosen first total within the draft; he was finally picked fourth, one slot forward of Junior Seau, a linebacker from the University of Southern California who performed for 20 years and was elected posthumously to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Seau killed himself in 2012 and was later discovered to have continual traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative mind illness linked to repeated hits to the top.

The Buccaneers had dropping information every of McCants’ three years in Tampa, which heightened the scrutiny of his efficiency and his paychecks. (He acquired a document $2.5 million signing bonus as a part of a five-year $7.four million deal.) McCants lived the lifetime of a celeb participant, spending freely. He mentioned that he was preyed upon by monetary advisers and others and misplaced $17 million.

He performed in 88 video games in his profession and recorded 13.5 quarterback sacks and one interception.

After he left the N.F.L., McCants, who studied felony legislation in faculty, turned the primary Black marine police officer in Alabama when he joined the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. He joked that he discovered it exhausting to arrest folks as a result of they usually acknowledged him from his taking part in days and mentioned they had been followers of his.

Yet the ability of his habit proved sturdy. He lived on the road in Tampa for 2 years within the early 2000s, labored as a pimp and drug seller, and frolicked in jail, the place he as soon as tried to hold himself. He spent stretches in quite a few rehabilitation services, solely to succumb to medication once more as soon as he obtained out, as he recounted in his 2018 memoir, “My Dark Side of the N.F.L.”

In current years, seemingly at peace along with his destiny, he tried to warn others by speaking about his monetary troubles, his run-ins with the legislation and the ache — emotional in addition to bodily — that he buried with medication.

“I’m not too much worried about Keith McCants,” he mentioned. “I’m more worried about the people that’s coming after Keith McCants.”