|Super Bowl to jail cell: Enduring an addiction|
by Amanda Thomas/Times-Georgian Times Georgian
“I’ve been sober now for 26 years and 10 months,” Henderson said. “I just want to keep up with that one day at a time. I’ve done the work. I’ve had the treatment. I’ve had the support of support groups for almost 27 years. ‘Conquer’ is not the proper word. I’ve endured my own propensity toward addictive addiction.”
It is his talent to find the right words to describe his journey from the Super Bowl to the cell block that allows him to share his story at high schools, colleges, treatment centers, companies and prison throughout the country. He will be in Carrollton on Oct. 21 as the keynote speaker at the Carroll County Meth Awareness Coalition’s (CMAC) fifth Annual Drug Awareness Summit, “Drugs and the Ripple Effect,” at Tabernacle Baptist Church from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Before he became known for his drug addiction, he was a first-round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 1975 and a Pro Bowl linebacker. During his seven-year career in the NFL, he played in three Super Bowls.
He wowed the crowd with his talent on the field and attracted crowds with his personality off. He was even featured on the cover of a 1979 issue of Newsweek. But he eventually lost his career because of his addiction, which drove him to use cocaine on the sidelines.
Henderson, who believes he could have been a hall of famer, said the drugs affected his behavior off the field more than his performance on it.
“I think it impacted my head coach Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys, so my career was shortened by my addiction and the behavior that comes with it as opposed to my football talent,” he said.
The Dallas Cowboys let Henderson go in 1979.
He pointed out that those in the middle of addiction tend not to know that those around them are aware of their drug problem. Besides the few teammates who knew of his drug use, he does not believe many people knew his difficult behavior stemmed from drugs.
“You tend not to know that your employer knows it, your wife knows it, your children know it, your friends know it and I didn’t think I was an addict,” he said. “I just thought it was just the way I was living my life. I’m glad I quit.”
Henderson said he and a few of his teammates thought their drug use was recreational.
“Everybody that ends up with a drug addiction, it starts out in a very recreational manner and it goes to an obsession that causes people to lose their jobs, their lives, their children, their family, their freedom,” he said.
His 1983 arrest for sexual assault in a California drug house served as the catalyst for him to want to get help. He was subsequently sentenced to 28 months in prison and went to rehab.
“I embarrassed myself and my family,” Henderson said. “It wasn’t me. This moment of pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization woke me up and I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to drink and drug anymore because it has made me crazy.’”
He was alone at the time and sought God’s help in getting sober.
“I had to dust myself off and make that decision,” Henderson said. “I prayed about it and I prayed. I asked for direction and I dusted myself off. I made a good decision for my wife, my children and my family.”
He was able to establish a new way of living through therapy and the 12-step program. He has not taken drugs or had a drink since Nov. 8, 1983, and now travels the world sharing his story as a lecturer, educational filmmaker and promoter of recovery programs throughout the country’s criminal justice system.
After more than 26 years of maintaining his sobriety, he feels his biggest accomplishment is building a stadium with an eight-lane track in Austin for the community’s youth. The project was part of East Side Youth Services and Street Outreach of which he is the founder and chairman.
“I started the project in 1990 and I’ve been doing it for 20 years now,” Henderson said. “It’s free and open to the kids of my hometown.”
He is also president of Thomas Henderson Films, an educational video visual aid distribution company that provides the incarcerated community with information on prevention, recovery and sobriety. He wrote the best-selling book “Out of Control: Confessions of an NFL Casualty,” which was published in 1987. He made the news again in 2000 by winning the Texas Lottery’s $28 million jackpot, which helped him do even more for the community.
Henderson is looking forward to sharing his story at October’s summit.
“With most of my lectures over the year, I personalize it for that local community and weave my story of recovery and work I’ve done over these 27 years into something that makes sense for the community,” Henderson said. “I tend to create comedy infused with painful reality, so we’ll have a good time.”
He encourages addicts seek help in gaining control of their addiction.
“Treatment or 12-step groups will help save our life,” Henderson said. “There’s plenty of those in your community. For the family, the first thing you do is to try to help a loved one. The second thing is tough love. Family members should take a stand that the addicted go to treatment or to 12-step groups, either or, [and say] ‘You can’t live here until you get sober.’”
The other speakers for this year’s event are Dr. Brian Moore, who will discuss the effects of drugs on the body, and Dr. Merrill Norton, an interventionist.
Reagan Clayton said he and other coalition members look forward to hearing Henderson speak after hearing so much about him.
“We know of his book,” he said. “We watched some video clips of him at programs. We know tidbits as far as his information, but we also know there is plenty more insight that he can share personally. That’s the whole benefit of having the summit and a powerful speaker to share his testimony with the public who can see and ask questions first hand of the people that walked the path of drug addiction. We’re real excited about it.”
The coalition encourages people to register online by Oct. 15.
“The people I am in contact with on a daily basis are telling me how excited they are and looking forward to this year’s summit,” Clayton said. “That just really tells us that CMAC as a group is really on target with listening to the community and delivering this kind of information about drug awareness and how it affects everybody.”