Whether you are a football fan, someone concerned about addictions, or you just like a good success story, Tony Mandarich’s newly published memoir “My Dirty Little Secrets—Steroids, Alcohol & God” is a rewarding and eye-opening reading experience.
In 1989, after an incredible football career playing for Michigan State, Tony Mandarich was the number two draft pick for the NFL and chosen by the Green Bay Packers. Who could forget the picture of him on Sports Illustrated that spring, showing his incredible muscular build at 6’6” and 315 pounds, and the declaration that he was “The Best Offensive Line Prospect Ever”? It looked like Tony might become the greatest NFL player ever. Tony was on top of the world!
But Tony had some dirty little secrets. For years he had been using steroids to increase his performance. He also had an addiction to alcohol and painkillers. He hid those secrets well, but in his memoir he now tells his complete story honestly, with all his mistakes and regrets laid bare for readers, not merely for sensation to sell books, but to show how he turned his life around and to give hope to others suffering from addictions.
While the media made insinuations about his steroid use during his career, and Tony admits to it, drugs and alcohol were what really caused his world to fall apart. His memoir depicts the extremes a person will take to hide and continue his addiction. Tony details how he cheated on drug tests so he could play in the Rose Bowl and other games, as well as how he tricked pharmacies and charmed doctors to write him out prescriptions for extra pills. At times, he even drove eight hundred miles round trip in a single day just to get pills so he could avoid withdrawal symptoms. Tony admits he was not sober a single day he played for the Green Bay Packers. The high expectations for his NFL career were more than he could handle. Then once his football career ended, he wasted the next three years doing nothing but living off his savings from his football days to feed his drug and alcohol addiction.
After watching his brother die, possibly from steroid use, and realizing how his addictions were destroying his family, Tony made a decision to turn his life around. He checked himself into a treatment center and never looked back, refusing to be in the majority of alcoholics who return to drinking. For years, Tony and his brother’s relationship had been strained. Even though he was with his brother when he died, Tony continued to feel guilt and shame about their relationship. One of the most tremendous moments in his memoir is the spiritual journey a friend led him upon, using a Native American tradition of meditation, where he was able to talk to his brother again; he realized his brother was his spiritual guide and would be there to help him everyday going forward. This heart-wrenching cathartic experience was a major turning point in Tony’s life and speaks to the importance of the addict healing emotional wounds along with becoming drug free.
The final section of the book reads like a celebration. Tony’s story would have been triumphant enough by simply describing how he overcame his addiction. But Tony went a step farther by returning to the NFL to play for the Indianapolis Colts. Without steroids, drugs, or alcohol, his performance was better than ever. He was the strongest player on the team, but he was also humble this time, looking to be a team player rather than a superstar. He stated at the time: “Benching 545 coming out of college didn’t help me pass-block…That’s the way I look at it. I just want to help this team.” Similarly, his memoir is not all about Tony Mandarich. It’s about how a person can right past wrongs and overcome addiction. It’s about one addict coming forward to tell his story, to raise awareness about addictions and how a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous and trusting in God can turn a life around. It’s about Tony wanting to help others who have fallen to recover their lives and self-esteem. At the end of the book Tony states, “If this story has helped one of you to recognize that you need help, it was worth all the media controversy.” Tony Mandarich succeeded in his dreams of being an NFL player, but more importantly, “My Dirty Little Secrets” reveals that he has succeeded in being an incredible human being!
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. author of The Marquette Trilogy
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