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Former Steelers FB Jon Witman Discusses Overcoming Pain Killer Addiction

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Jon Witman is opening up about his difficult battle with painkillers that cost him family, friends, and nearly his life. As shared on the LCBC YouTube channel on Sunday, Witman discussed initially using football as an escape from a tough upbringing. He played college ball at Penn State and was a featured runner during their 1995 season, leading the Nittany Lions with nine rushing scores.

The Steelers drafted him in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He played in an era and for a team that featured a fullback. Splitting time with Tim Lester, signed the year prior, Pittsburgh featured a top running game. But injuries began to take their toll, and like many, Witman said he did whatever it took to stay on the field.

“First two, three years of the NFL, I wouldn’t do [pain medicine],” he said. “I wouldn’t take an aspirin. In those seven years playing with the Steelers, I kept getting more and more injuries. I had to stay on the field on game day. Started out where I was given Vicodin and things like that. And then I started getting shot up before games, painkiller stuff. And before I know it, I’m an addict. You become physically dependent…it took control of my whole being.”

Witman played for the Steelers from 1996 through 2001. He rarely missed time, in part due to taking painkillers like Toradol to get through Sundays, though he missed ten games in 2000 due to injury. He returned to appear in 15 games in 2001, his final full NFL season.

His post-playing days were difficult. Still dependent on painkillers, Witman said he lost family and friends and contemplated suicide. He attempted rehab, getting clean for brief moments in time before relapsing.

“For 10, 15 years, I was a horrible human being. Horrible human being. I still struggle, a lot, with that. I lost a family because of it. A lot of bad things happened. When my youngest kid saw me with a gun to my head, I didn’t want to be here no more.”

Twice, Witman was cited for DUI after crashing his car. Not for alcohol but painkillers, as this 2017 York Dispatch article laid out. 

“Court documents indicate Witman wasn’t drinking in either case. He was impaired by a morphine painkiller and the muscle relaxant Soma — ‘the stuff that was prescribed to me,’ he said.”

The article notes Witman credited his wife and NFL for finding the right treatment center for him, finally getting sober. The video also shares the story of Witman’s faith journey, finding God and a church to help him change his life.

“I thought I didn’t need [God]. Everything was just fine. I’m an athlete, I’m making money. That stuff, none of that is really important to me now.”

Witman’s story of painkiller addiction is unfortunately common. Many players in the league, including former Steelers, have shared stories of their addiction. The NFLPA has attempted to curtail these problems, sending out guidelines to severely reduce the use of Toradol. Still, the central problem remains. Players, especially those who aren’t the league’s stars, know they have to be available to play, or else they’re at risk of losing their jobs. Changing that culture so woven into the fabric of the league will be a difficult task.

Watch Witman’s story at the link below.

 

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