Recently Tiger Woods, for the first time, made me feel bad for him. Never have I had a hint of sorrow for him in the past. As his life was crumbling around him and his wife and golf game left him, I felt like he deserved it for not living up to the squeaky clean image he always portrayed. Then, when I heard he had been arrested for DUI, my first reaction was….good. He’s a bum.
A couple days later, as the smoke cleared, I found out he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, but what appeared to be painkillers. I don’t condone the fact that he was out driving around high on anything, but hearing he was on painkillers gave me pause. As a person that deals with back pain every day because of the athlete I used to be, I can understand how someone can get hooked.
In May, I went to my annual college football alumni golf outing. At the outing, we did what we normally do. We talked about how good we used to be, had a couple too many drinks and played some terrible golf. But this year I heard something I didn’t expect. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because my closest friends are around 40 now, but several of my buddies have been dealing with addiction in one way or another for a long time. Much of it stems from the early start they got by trying to make it through season after season of pounding on their bodies.
I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I believe the mindset of an athlete that plays at a high level is: “just get me on the field, I’ll worry about the pain later.” This attitude can cause people to take dangerous steps leading to dire consequences in the future, but I don’t think it’s unique to the people I know. I also know the macho mindset of most athletes is they can take on the world themselves and they don’t need help. This is also a slippery slope when it comes to chemical addiction.
Of the stories I heard at the outing, one was the most shocking of all. I learned a fellow athlete from Western, from the era when I was playing ball, died of a heroin overdose earlier this year. His name was Dave Gove and he was an outstanding hockey player. Dave was a buddy of mine. We weren’t close, but we ran with the same crowds and frequented the same establishments while we were in college. We hadn’t stayed in touch after graduation as he continued his hockey career, but what I did know of him was that he was a great guy. From what I witnessed, he was a straight arrow and always had a smile on his face. When I heard the news of his death, I couldn’t believe it. Dave was not the guy you would ever expect something like an overdose to happen to.
It’s hard for me to imagine a guy that made it to the top of his profession could struggle with addiction to the extent he would die. It’s hard for me to imagine a person my age overdosed on heroin. And it’s even harder for me to imagine how challenging living with an addiction must be.
I’ve had family members succumb to addiction and their stories seemed to make sense to me, as odd as it sounds. But when I see athletes and former athletes struggle with demons, my assumption isn’t likely dissimilar to theirs. I believe they can beat it. They’re used to winning and beating the odds. They’ve been doing it their entire lives. Unfortunately, they don’t always pull through.
I’ve thought about Dave a lot since the outing. His story is all too common. If there is anything good that can come of it, I hope someone sees it and is inspired to get help when they need it. Dave had a lot of people who cared about him. And I’m guessing that’s the case with most addiction stories.
The idea of my blog is to relate to people that played sports but also to provide young folks a resource for what life can be like after sports end. Hopefully, anyone reading this heavy message can take a moment to understand how serious addiction and drug use can be. We don’t need to ever lose another one like Dave. Rest in peace Bronco Brother.