At first look, Las Vegas Raiders stars Maxx Crosby and Darren Waller wouldn’t seem to have much in common. Crosby, intense and driven, is on his way to becoming one of the top defensive ends of the game. Waller, soft-spoken and quiet, has already established himself as one of the top tight ends in football. Yet the two share one important thing in common: addictions to alcohol, opioids and other drugs that almost derailed their careers before they even made the NFL.
The Need for a Similar High
For Crosby, addiction grew out of a desire to find something that would provide him with the same high he enjoyed after making a game-changing play on the field.
“I knew deep down I had a problem from the day I started drinking in high school,” Crosby told the Las Vegas Sun in September 2021. “I couldn’t drink without throwing up. That was the reality of it. I knew I couldn’t handle it.”
The same intensity he displayed in every game through high school allowed him to keep his growing alcohol problem in check. However, he couldn’t keep it secret from other people. Although he was an immensely talented player, he received only one offer of a college scholarship from the Eastern Michigan University Eagles (also known as “the worst team in the country”) because word had spread about his “problem.”
Crosby’s first addiction-related suspension
His intensity served him well with Eastern Michigan until after a house party. He crashed his car and was arrested for drunk driving. The team suspended Crosby for multiple games. But Crosby loved football so much that he’d feel physically ill when he wasn’t playing. So he went to the team coach, promised he’d remain sober and talked himself back onto the team.
“But there’s a difference between being dry sober and being really sober,” Crosby recalls now. “I still had a ton to work on.”
As the NFL draft approached, Crosby’s reputation as a drinker threatened his chances of becoming an NFL player. He knew he’d be asked about his addiction problems at NFL combines. As he told the Sun, “That wasn’t fun.”
He was selected in the fourth round by the Oakland Raiders and almost immediately proved his star potential. Then in 2020, the Oakland Raiders became the Las Vegas Raiders and Crosby found himself in a whole new world of temptation.
He spent much of that first season in Las Vegas partying.
“After my rookie season, it was great,” Crosby said. “You’ve got money now. You’ve got opportunities to do whatever you want, basically. You don’t have supervision, so for me, I was just partying too much, and it became unmanageable.”
He had to do something. Enter Darren Waller.
Waller, the ‘Quiet, Smart, Shy’ Kid
Darren Waller’s substance abuse and addictions grew out of a completely different circumstance: a deep feeling of insecurity and not belonging that he’d felt since childhood. Quiet, shy and smart but feeling alone in high school, he saw that football players were the “cool kids.” He thought if he could play football, perhaps he’d feel a little less uncertain about his life.
And then one day while visiting a friend, he was offered a painkiller. Often sore after a game or a practice, he thought “Why not?” At first, he’d only take them now and then, but eventually, he began to pop them before practice, before games and then afterward. He started stealing medications from his parents, and when he saw friends wearing a cast because of an injury, he asked them to share their painkillers.
He received a football scholarship from Georgia Tech, but on his first day at the university, he got high. While he played reasonably well, his addictions began to affect his performance, and the team noticed. The school assigned him to do rehab three nights a week. He never stayed long for a session and learned how to tell people what they wanted to hear.
Suspended by the NFL for Drug Abuse
In 2015 he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the NFL draft. However, Waller’s obsession with drugs — his constant ingestion of opioids, Percocet and any other pill he could obtain — finally caught up with him. He began failing NFL drug tests and finally was suspended for the entire 2017 season.
After a particularly bad experience where he felt he almost died, he decided it was time to make a change. On his own, he entered a drug rehabilitation program in Maine. He began to change. He stayed sober and away from drugs.
“I felt better about my life at that point than I ever had playing in the NFL,” Waller told Fox Sports in September 2021.
The NFL reinstated him in 2018. And he hasn’t looked back. Picked up by the Raiders off the Ravens’ practice squad, he became the team’s top receiver the past two seasons.
He started the Darren Waller Foundation, to support others with addiction problems. Today he hosts podcasts and speaks to Zoom meetings full of teenage athletes struggling with addiction, sharing his own story.
Crosby and Waller
That’s what he entered Maxx Crosby’s life. After Crosby realized he had a drinking problem, he turned to Waller for advice. The two talked constantly and became close friends. Waller helped Crosby find counselors and a drug rehabilitation program.
“I knew I had to reevaluate everything and really save myself,” Crosby says. “Having Darren in my locker room — you know, that was God right there.”
Crosby has been sober for 18 months now, and he feels he’s finally got his life on the right path. Waller knows how difficult the journey is because he’s been down that road.
“I’ve run from conversations, from relationships and interactions, my whole life,” he says. “Now, I will walk straight toward that discomfort. Because that’s produced more positive results than running ever did.”
If you’re using alcohol or drugs to deal with the stresses of everyday life and you know it’s affecting your relationship with others, your job and/or your mental health, you can reach out for help. Call us at (833) 596-3502. Our team of compassionate counselors wants to help. They’re ready to take your call 24/7 to help you start your journey to recovery.