When former All-Pro running back Thurman Thomas stepped to the
podium to address Purdue and Washington football players at a
luncheon before the Sun Bowl in December, he knew they wanted to
hear the secret to his stellar 13-year NFL career with the
Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins--what drove him to 12,074
career rushing yards, four consecutive Super Bowls, five Pro
Bowls selections and the 1991 MVP award. They wanted to know what
made him run. Instead, they learned what made him hide.
"I wasn't going to talk about this," he said into the microphone,
letting the speech in his head give way to the message in his
heart. "I'm a recovering alcoholic."
Thomas had been out of a rehab center only one week when he spoke
at the luncheon. He explained how he became a heavy drinker
shortly after his football career ended in November 2000, when he
blew out his right knee in his ninth game with the Dolphins. "I
began staying in the house [and drinking]," he says. "I was used
to going to practice, going to games."
At dinner with his wife, Patti, and some friends one night,
Thomas kept excusing himself to go to the bathroom and went
instead to the bar. It was after that episode that Patti told him
she was tired of his problem, and his daughter Olivia wrote him a
letter saying, I know that some families break up over
alcoholism. I don't want to lose my family. Her letter, Thomas
says, "blew me away." A week later he entered a treatment center.
Thomas's bout with alcoholism wasn't the first time he had to
deal with adversity. Though he enjoyed great individual
achievement in the NFL, Thomas suffered more embarrassment than
most of his teammates when the Bills became the second team to
lose four Super Bowls. He missed the opening series of Super Bowl
XXVI against the Washington Redskins because he couldn't find his
helmet on the sideline. He fumbled twice against the Dallas
Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII, leading to 10 Dallas points.
The lessons learned from his on-field setbacks and personal
struggles led him to create Thurman Thomas Enterprises, a program
launched in January that is designed to teach athletes how to
manage performance anxiety, become a team leader, handle the
media and understand a range of legal issues. Thomas, who lives
outside Orlando with Patti and their four children (Olivia, 13;
Angel, 11; Annika, 6; and Thurman III, 19 months), is also vice
president of business development for Convergence Techno Media, a
firm that produces websites, brochures and promotional videos for
businesses, and he's a partner in Sports Media Group, which
specializes in providing high-tech hardware, such as plasma
televisions, to arenas and stadiums. In between he tries to
attend his daughters' softball games and golf tournaments.
Thomas doesn't worry that he's trying to do too much. "After
losing four Super Bowls," he says, "I can handle just about
anything." --Melissa Segura
started a program that helps athletes manage their careers.