In NFL parlance, Keith McCants was a “can’t miss.” A relentless and powerful athlete, he was a first-team All-American linebacker at Alabama and was drafted fourth overall in 1990 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His success seemingly guaranteed, the team made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
But McCants soon became known by a less flattering NFL moniker: “draft bust.” Days after being chosen by the Buccaneers, he had knee surgery. A year later, he had to learn a new position when he was moved from linebacker to defensive end. The injuries and frustrations mounted as he tried to meet people’s outsized expectations.
His promise unfulfilled, the Buccaneers released McCants after three years. He spent three more seasons with the Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals before he left the league, his money and celebrity diminished. What remained was an overpowering addiction to painkillers, and eventually to other drugs, that consumed the rest of McCants’ life and turned him into a cautionary tale.
After decades of drug abuse, numerous arrests, dozens of surgeries and years living on the street — all punctuated by brief stretches of sobriety — McCants was found dead, early Thursday morning, at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 53.
The cause appeared to be a drug overdose, but Amanda Sinni, a spokesperson for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, said the department was awaiting a report from the medical examiner’s office.
In and out of rehabilitation and eager to share his story to warn others away from drugs, McCants all but predicted his demise in 2015, when he was interviewed by The New York Times.
“I live one day at a time; I’m a recovering addict,” he said. “Tomorrow’s not promising. If I die today or tomorrow, I’m all right with that because I’m comfortable with me. My goal is to help people who can’t help themselves, to turn their negatives to positives, to give them hope. That’s what I sell.”