Of kickoffs and Ketamine addiction

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If drug addiction and violent team sports are your two foremost interests then Hero of the Underground is going to be your Great Gatsby.

Ex-NFL player Jason Peter, with the help of Tony O’Neill, who has previously written fictionalized accounts of his own days as an addict, chronicles his climb to success that crumbled into despair and depression.

The first chapter opens into a scene just before Peter hits rock bottom. He then goes back for the next hundred pages to write about his time playing football in high school, then for the college-level Nebraska Cornhuskers, who won the National Championship his senior year, and then for the NFL-level North Carolina Panthers, who held a losing record during the seasons Peter played for them.

Even for someone like me who knows practically nothing about football, and doesn’t want to know anything about football, it was far from boring. If anything, for someone of my naiveté, it was fascinating.

Instead of dwelling on jargon-laden passages about actually playing the game, Peter focuses on his personal experiences of suiting up like he was a warrior going into battle and his extremely brutal thoughts, such as his goal to “put Peyton Manning in the hospital.”

Peter’s fierce dedication to the game is actually what led him down the dark path of drug addiction. When he obtained injuries in high school and college, he began to take painkillers to keep playing at full capacity.

When he joined the NFL, his intake of painkillers increased as his injuries accelerated into painful surgeries. He only spent a few years in the NFL before he was told that his body was too destroyed to play.

Still in immense pain and now without a sense of purpose, he increased his dosage of painkillers and began snorting coke. At 6 feet 5 inches and 250 pounds, he swallowed 50 to 80 Vicodin ES pills each day. To kill the pain, he also took Ketamine, a cat tranquilizer that functioned as a mild hallucinogenic, and GHB, which provided a “pleasant, woozy kind of drunken high.” The rest of the book is spent retelling how his addiction spiraled into harder drugs such as crack and heroin, as well as his five different rehab stays.

Peter goes over multiple experiences in Hero‘s 289 pages, but like a rock skipping over a lake, he never seems to dive into any particular scene. As soon as I began to feel any depth, the prose changed scenes to skim along the surface again.

Most addiction memoirs that I’ve read tell detailed accounts about how the author became hooked on drugs, their experiences at rehab or their relapses. I’m usually driven to tears, but Peter’s short snapshots that summarized rehab stays or relapse into a mere paragraph or two makes it difficult, if not impossible, to become fully engrossed in his memoir.

Peter’s story shows that drug abuse is a chronic problem with people from any economic background. It also helps explain why the 12-step program is unsuccessful for so many people, especially atheists like Peter.

The final clinic that Peter checked into devised a personalized treatment plan for him based on trust and understanding, rather than looking to higher powers. Unfortunately, most people, especially addicts who spend all of their money on drugs, cannot afford such resort-like rehabs, which cost more money for one month than most Americans earn in a year.

I recommend Hero of the Underground to any Jason Peter fan or anyone who’s an aficionado of personal accounts of addiction. Though this may not be the finest example of that category, it still approaches the subject with a mix of fact and salacious detail that make it hard to put down.

Hero of the UndergroundJason Peter with Tony O’Neill$24.95

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