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Tyrann (Honey Badger) Mathieu: “Getting Clean Was a Mind Thing”
(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to imply that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)
Tyrann Devine Mathieu is a 25-year-old star safety and cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League (NFL).
When he was at Louisiana State University (LSU), someone came up with the nickname “The Honey Badger” because of Tyrann’s tenacious ability to play extremely tough football against much larger opponents.
The honey badger is a small, carnivorous animal maybe 10 inches tall and under two feet long. But because of its thick skin, incredible strength and ferocious fighting ability, it fearlessly attacks almost anything, out of all proportion to its size.
In the NFL, even average players are 6-plus-footers and weigh 250 or 350 and up. Tyrann is 5 ft 9 and a speedy 186. He’s smaller, but ferociously fearless, and like the honey badger, nothing seems to scare him. He brings down players that tower over him. He leaps ridiculously high to intercept passes. Runs faster. Dodges faster. Crashes into monsters when he can’t go around them.
Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger. But he just wishes you’d stop calling him “The Honey Badger.” He thinks he’s outgrown that college stuff.
A rough childhood
Tyrann Mathieu was born on May 13, 1992 in New Orleans, LA. In his early years, Tyrann was raised by his grandparents. His mother was seldom around and his father was in prison for murder. After his grandfather died in 1997, 5-year-old Tyrann was adopted by his uncle and aunt, Tyrone and Sheila Mathieu.
Tyrann was an exceptional athlete in high school. He ran track and field, was the state’s top long jumper, and racked up record stats in football. When Louisiana State University (LSU) offered Tyrann a football scholarship, he readily accepted.
In 2010 and 2011, Tyrann racked up impressive stats and won Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the Cotton Bowl Classic.
From MVP to off the team
Partway through his second season, Tyrann and two teammates tested positive for “synthetic marijuana.” They were suspended for one game.
Tyrann completed the 2011 season and was named Most Valuable Player of the South East Conference Championship Game at the Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. He was also a Heisman Trophy finalist.
But in the summer of 2012, LSU head coach Les Miles announced that his star player was being dismissed from the football team “due to a violation of team rules.”
News stories said the dismissal followed “repeated drug test failures.” In fact, those reports proved true.
“This is a very difficult day for our team,” Coach Miles said. “We lose a quality person, teammate and contributor to the program. We will do what we can…to get him on a path where he can have success. We are going to miss him.”
Within a week Tyrann was in rehab. He was now out of a scholarship, so he paid for his year at LSU and continued his studies. For a few months things seemed okay.
But in October, Tyrann and several former teammates were arrested for possession of marijuana and briefly locked up in jail. This ended any chance to play for LSU again, and probably a bid to enter the NFL draft the next spring.
Hanging with the wrong people
ESPN reporter Joe Schad asked Tyrann how, since he’d been through rehab, this happened.
“I fell back into the same trap that got me suspended,” Tyrann told Schad.
“When you surround yourself with the wrong people it’s going to backfire every time. Sitting in that jail cell, it clicked. Looking at those people just staring at me. ‘You don’t belong in here.’ They wanted to come through the jail cell and get me. I’m scared now. Because it’s reality now. I don’t ever want to feel like this again. I’m not going to feel like this again.”
But the arrest enabled him to get honest with himself, to see how he used marijuana to deal with problems on and off the field.
Getting clean was “a mind thing,” he told ESPN. “The rehab I’ve been to, the counseling I’ve been to, my mama and daddy jumping down my throat, Coach Miles popping by my apartment, none of that could stop me if I didn’t want to stop. If I didn’t want happiness for myself. Nobody else can want it for me.”
“At the time, I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop,” he told Bleacher Report. “I think I was addicted to it. I had formed a true habit of it, but I think looking back on it, I couldn’t stop because I didn’t want to.”
Tyrann said he just needed to “grow up” and he set about doing that. He distanced himself from bad influences, buckled down to training for the NFL, and the honey badger toughness paid off.
Arizona Cardinals take a chance
In April, 2013, the Arizona Cardinals decided to take a chance, and selected Tyrann in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. And good things have happened.
First of all, he has become the NFL star he always wanted to be, playing through three seasons with the Cardinals. In the summer of 2016, the Cardinals made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL, even though he has suffered two major knee injuries requiring surgery. The five-year contract includes $21.25 million guaranteed and is worth a maximum of $62.5 million.
He’s also become a popular member of the local Phoenix, AZ community, helping out with several organizations. A local paper just reported last week that “The Honey Badger doesn’t just take what he wants, he gives back as well. Former LSU star and current Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, along with the United Food Bank, provided 200 Thanksgiving meals to families in the Phoenix, AZ area.”
Tyrann also has pledged $1 million to the LSU football program. “I’ve got great respect for LSU, the way they embraced me, the way they let me become a superstar and a household name,” he said. “All the things they did for me to try and help me off the football field, just wanted to reach back out to them.
“I think that’s what life is about, giving back, helping other people,” he added. “Anything they need. It’s a blessing to be in this position.”
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