Inside NFL's substance abuse program

Published August 26, 2013

| FoxSports

Pat McAfee, esteemed NFL punter, raconteur and bon vivant is bringing his sweet music to FOXSports.com. We'll be giving him his own space every now and then to preach on whatever tickles his fancy. Remember to check out his charity at PatMcAfeeFoundation.org.

Hello again, beautiful people of the Internet.

I disappeared into the land of training camp for a few weeks, so I apologize for my absence. Training camp was fun -- thanks for asking -- but just about every person I know who has to leave their house for an extended time for work, is excited to get back home.

Going into this camp, I wondered about what there was going to be as far as entertainment off the field. Last year, every night we'd watch the Olympics. NBC delayed showing all of the content until evenings, and for players at training camp, it was perfect. Get back to the room around 10 p.m., watch America beat the hell out of some other country until 11 and then pass out. This year, I knew there was going to be no Olympics, so how did I spend that hour? Shark Week was cool, but that got old. You can only watch Great Whites demolish seals for so long, or watch folks hop into cages and ask, "Are Sharks really dangerous?" Uhh ... yeah dumbass, that's why that cage exists in the first place.

But then a few things happened that seem to be happening a bit too often these days as some negative stories hit the NFL by storm. One was a video, which was extremely disappointing to watch. And the other was about a superstar tangling with the substance of abuse policy/program the NFL has in place. I know all about embarrassing myself to the nation with some poor decisions, but it's not my place to talk about what happened in that video. What I can talk about though, because I went through it, and made it out of it, is the substance of abuse program. Not many get out, and here's what it is.

A week after I got arrested for public intoxication in 2010, I was shipped by the NFL to Chicago. I went to meet with numerous psychiatrists, psychologists and whoever else they thought could help the NFL figure out whether I was a full-blown alcoholic, or if the night I got into trouble was an anomaly. I was tested for seven hours and got the same question about 30 times in different forms. I had to take a written test, a memory test, answer "What would you do here?" questions, you name it, they asked it.

I was informed that day that I was in Stage 1 of the substance abuse program. They would see how that goes, then get ahold of me in 90 days and tell me what the next move was. Stage 1 consisted of this:

• (Up to) eight random urine tests a month. They could come at any time and I had four hours to complete the test. If I did not complete the test, it would be deemed a fail.

• Meet with a substance of abuse counselor once a week. The NFL employs counselors in every city to meet with players in "The Program." It's your standard counselor meeting... "How's this week going? Have you used?" It had to be at least one hour, I think.

• Check in with the league anytime I was relocating. If I was taking a trip somewhere, I had to call the league, "Report my change of location," give them the address I'd be at, how many days I'd be there, and two phone numbers they could reach me at.

I hated it, obviously, but I was the one who messed up, so I had to deal with it.

For any drug or alcohol related arrest you are put in "The Program." Obviously, if you fail a test, you are put in "The Program." So, 90 days goes by and I have zero failed tests, zero missed counselor sessions, zero missed relocations. Basically, I was doing everything I could to live life by "The Program." I didn't touch alcohol or any other drugs. I basically didn't leave my house for 90 days. I figured I already did enough by ending up in this program, I'm not messing up while being in "The Program."

On day 80ish, I got a call from the head psychiatrist in Chicago. She informed me that their tests concluded with the notion that I am not an alcoholic, I just made some bad decisions on the evening I was arrested. I was so pumped after that phone call. I thought I was done with "The Program" after this 90-day Stage 1 phase. Then on Day 90, I got a call from Dr. Spadafora, a man I had never talked to, but apparently he was one of the head guys of "The Program," and he let me know that he was "the man" very quickly into our conversation. It went something like this:

"Patrick, this is Dr. Spadafora from NFL substance of abuse program, informing you that I have decided to move you into Stage 2 of the substance of abuse program. It is exactly like Stage 1, but this lasts two years," he said.

"WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA", I said. "I talked to a sweet lady 10 days ago, who knows me, and she said I was not an alcoholic"

"Well, I'm the one that made the decision not her," he told me.

I was furious and fired back with a nice, "Then why the hell did I go to Chicago? Get tested by people that aren't you? You don't even know me. And what the hell is the purpose of Stage 1? If you do everything right, you're going to go to Stage 2 anyways, shouldn't there just be one stage then?"

"We'll look into changing your starting date of Stage 2 to 90 days ago, we'll get back to you if it changes," he said.

And boom, my mind was blown.

The eight random urine tests. The counselor. The "changing of location." The constant worry of failing a test would last for another 730 days. I was bummed, but you know what they say, "If life gives you limes, take a shot of tequila."

Well, I couldn't do that, for obvious reasons, but I was going to try and make the most of it.

I didn't drink for two years. I laid low and found other hobbies. I was upset, but I knew I was the only one to blame for being in there. I was urine tested at 4:30 a.m. in the woods of Georgia, after a long, unsuccessful evening of hunting for Bigfoot. I was so deep in the woods, trying to find that damn Sasquatch, I missed the calls of the tester. By the time I got out of the woods, there was 15 minutes left for me to generate enough urine to fill the cup. If I failed that test, I would've moved into Stage 3, which lasts the rest of your career. I was not about to do that. I had to give my bladder a motivational speech, and about five bottles of Pedialyte.

I was urine tested 190 times in 27 months. I had 108 counselor sessions. 100 "change of location" conversations. And to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Was it redundant? Yeah. Should it be run differently? To separate folks who do it right, and the large majority of folks who will never get out of the program? Yeah. Do you feel like somebody is watching your every step? Yeah, but for me, it was a harsh reality I needed. I was wild, and that night was not an anomaly, so I'm pretty thankful the program entered my life. But I definitely think it needs to be changed a bit, too. So, if you hear about a guy getting into trouble, or failing a test, please don't think that they're not being punished. It's a tough program to get through. And if you slip up, and you're a superstar, the word will get around.

Question from the Tweeterverse

@CameronScottism: Locker room pranks? Any good stories?

I'm not a big prankster, believe it or not. But I may or may not have been a part of a group that did something pretty awesome to a coach's car the night before the last day of camp. This particular coach was a bit disrespectful to some players, ruffled some feathers and the decision was made that he needed to relax a little bit. So, the only reasonable thing for a group of people that I may or may not have been a part of was to take his car in the middle of the night, put it in the middle of the quad at training camp, fill the car to its gills with shipping peanuts and wrap that thing with 20 layers of saran wrap. Whoever did it, it was hilarious. I walked up to the coach the next morning and said, "Hey man, saw your car." He said, "Where? I called the cops and reported it missing." "Well call them back, I found it, and you're going to love its new decoration," I told him.

Something to ponder

Deer are snobs. I tried to feed this little Bambi bastard in my backyard and he turned his nose up at me. America.

All right you guys take care.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @PatMcAfeeShow if you're bored. Check out my show coming to IndyStar.com on September 3rd, and donate a dollar to my foundation pretty please. www.ThePatMcAfeeFoundation.org

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http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2013/08/26/inside-nfl-substance-abuse-program/