Cris Carter: From Addiction to Superstardom in the NFL
When Ohio State football star Cris Carter left college to join the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1987, future success seemed all but guaranteed. With a rare combination of size, athleticism, and skilled hands, Carter possessed the perfect package to play the wide receiver position at a high level, and no one was surprised when he soon emerged as one of the Eagles’ more reliable playmakers.
But unbeknownst to the public, things were far from rosy behind the scenes. The underground illegal drug culture in professional sports was vast and out of control in the 1980s, and like many players during that era, Cris Carter got caught up in that milieu and saw things quickly spiral out of control. Carter was drinking heavily and using cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy on a regular basis at that time, and he failed three drug tests over a three-year period before his head coach, Buddy Ryan, finally gave up on him and released him in the summer of 1990.
While the truth about Carter’s struggles with substance abuse had been kept from the public, privately NFL teams knew the reason why the Eagles had suddenly chosen to let him go despite his successes on the field. Nevertheless, in the high-stakes high-pressure world of professional sports, talent always opens doors, and the Minnesota Vikings decided to give Cris Carter another chance and claimed him before the start of the 1990 season.
Following the Path to Victory
Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse have permanently and tragically derailed the careers of many promising athletes at every level from high school through college to the pros. But after his sudden and shocking forced departure from Philadelphia, Cris Carter decided that he was not going to allow his life, on and off the field, to turn into a forgettable footnote. Cris had been dreaming about becoming a football star since he was just a small child, and getting cut by the Eagles shook his world to its foundation and made him wake up and realize he was on the verge of throwing it all away. Determined not to squander his new opportunity in Minnesota, Cris stopped drinking and drugging while dramatically upgrading the intensity of his fitness and workout regimes, using his professional ambitions as a motivating force to help him overcome his substance abuse problems.
His program of physical and psychological detoxification and his determination to transform his body to reach peak efficiency complemented each other beautifully, and the results of Carter’s personal and professional renewal were remarkable to say the least. Emerging as one of the very best wide receivers in the game, Cris was selected to play in the Pro Bowl, which is the NFL’s All-Star game, for eight consecutive seasons between 1993 and 2000, and when he retired in 2002 he was only the second receiver in league history to finish with more than 1,000 catches in his career. Inexplicably, Carter has yet to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but most believe his eventual enshrinement in his sport’s most honored institution is only a matter of time.
While football helped give Cris something to live for and something to fight for, there was much more driving his recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse than just his desire to succeed in sports. A deeply spiritual person, Cris became an ordained minister in 1996, and in subsequent years he devoted thousands of hours to speaking before youth groups, church assemblies, and athletic associations about his relationship with Christ and about how his spiritual beliefs helped him find the strength to escape from the iron grip of addiction. Extremely active in a variety of charitable activities even today, Carter has worked hard to help underprivileged children and young athletes improve their lives, spreading a message that emphasizes the importance of staying in school and away from drugs and alcohol.
He has been involved in this type of work for many years, for a period of time that precedes his retirement from football. Back in 1999, Cris was chosen as the NFL’s Man of the Year, a designation which is awarded annually to the player who is judged to have done more than any other to make a positive contribution to the lives of others in his community.
A Triumph of the Spirit
Like many young athletes, Cris Carter was drawn into the party and drug culture at an early age, and his dreams and his future were imperiled as a result of his struggles with chemical dependency. After almost losing it all, through his love for his sport and his relationship with God he was able to find his way back from the brink of disaster. His story of healing and redemption should inspire us all, and his unselfishness and willingness to share his experiences with young people in order to keep them from making the same mistakes he did is setting an example that other recovering substance abusers could certainly distinguish themselves by choosing to follow.