Pickens' Perspective: Chris Herren's powerful speech opens the dialogue
How comfortable are you in YOUR skin?
That was the question I pondered leaving Roger Ludlowe Middle School on Monday evening.
Chris Herren's graphic, and brutally honest story of how his gradual slide into addiction cost him a pro basketball career got me thinking. I'm sure I'm not alone.
How many D.A.R.E. classes have we sat in in which someone told us underage drinking is not cool? How many times have we been told to just say no?
Is drinking in high school cool? Of course it is -- at least in the minds of those who do.
But those kids are just emulating what we see everywhere.
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We're one beer-swilling, shot-pounding society, alright. Most adults can do it safely. Others can not. No children should, lest they become like those adults they gawk at.
Yet, they're being pushed to. I listen to music on YouTube every day. The pre-song ads are almost universally liquor ads -- most times whiskey or beer.
I listen to alternative music, and some of your kids do too. They are undoubtedly being targeted by watching the same videos.
Watch the Stanley Cup Finals, and you'll see a segment sponsored by a rum company, the board ads promote Canadian whisky and the in-game commercials are for whiskey and, of course, beer. Don't like hockey? NFL is sponsored by beer too. So is baseball and basketball.
I've been watching these sports since I was old enough to read. I didn't know what any of it was until I did. The only thing I knew of addiction was that it seemed like a lack of willpower, and that drug addicts lose money, then steal and become homeless.
In recent years, I've educated myself. I stumbled upon Herren's story through the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, Unguarded and watched how a superstar athlete went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
And as it does with many teens, it all started with a party in the woods.
"You never know who is in the audience," Herren told me before his `Rebound' event Monday. "You never know who might want to change."
Everyone is affected by addiction in one way or another. And, whether you know it or not, there are addicts -- both recovering and active -- living amongst you in nearly every walk of life.
And that's what Herren wants to focus on: what he's doing now and trying to alter the perception of addicts.
"My mission when I started this was to try to put a face on both the addiction and the recovery piece," Herren said. "Kids see addiction as the homeless man, the prostitute, the person coming up to the money begging for money. They don't see a kid in a Polo shirt, a guy in a suit, a professional athlete in a uniform.
"I believe kids see addiction on the last day and not enough of the first day, and that's what I try to give them."
He goes through his war stories -- one more gruesome than the next. I saw people cringe while he described his battle with prescription drugs and alcohol. He described how he grew up in Fall River, Mass., with Grade `A' parents. His friends' parents were lawyers, doctors and other affluent types, yet he and five of his basketball teammates ultimately became heroin addicts.
Herren's speech undoubtedly scared the bejesus out of some, but in the end the appreciative crowd treated Herren to a standing ovation.
How did Herren make it to Fairfield? Folks from the Fairfield Cares Community Coalition deserve some recognition. But credit Fairfield Ludlowe senior Will Dailey. His dad, Michael, is the CEO of Daytop in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Herren spent time at Daytop in 2008 and figured out how to get off the addiction ride. When Dailey asked Herren to speak, the former-NBA player -- who does about 30 talks per month around the country -- felt he had to.
"Will enjoyed `Unguarded' and wanted to present it to his school," Herren said. "I promised that I would make it here, and that's why. It's all because a student at this school wanted to bring this story. And that's usually the best way it can happen."
Will your kid turn out addicted? Probably not. Will your child know someone who suffers? In all likelihood, yes. Herren said that 30 million Americans suffer from addiction-- about 1 in every 10. Between parents, children, siblings, friends and relatives, Herren told me about 80 million people in the U.S. are affected by addiction.
"I just wanted to create an awareness, a little more empathy and maybe some more dialogue about this," he said. "If you don't care about me, care about the kid behind the addict who is struggling, or the parent."
An addict's No. 1 problem? Not wanting to be him or herself. The substance allows a release, that the addict needs to chase.
So, are you OK with you?