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Santino Speaks: Return from 'Dark Place'
by Ridge Mahoney, June 23rd, 2008 4:45PM
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On June 3, about a week before he spoke publicly about his drug addiction to the Washington Post, D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta and I sat in the dugout at RFK Stadium. After being asked a few times to shed light on what he'd gone through -- chronic abuse of opiates and the start on the long road back -- he agreed.

What follows is a transcript of portions of our conversation, along with some background material. A feature story on Quaranta's addiction and recovery can be found in the July 2008 issue of Soccer America Magazine.

SOCCER AMERICA: You went through a 90-day treatment program in Southern California from October to January, rejoined D.C. United in February, and signed a contract in March. Why are you telling your story now?

SANTINO QUARANTA: I'm offering society something now. I can be a part of helping other people, too. I share my experiences with people and give them hope, man.

I don't try to scare people but I just tell them what my experience was and how I deal with it now, and what I do on a daily basis to maintain a good life. A lot of people give me a lot of good information that I share with people. It's like a cycle of things that happen.

The people who are involved in what I do every day, they'll understand completely. And other people will say, "How is he so ungrateful, and why would he do that to himself, and why would he let a lot of people down?" I can tell you I didn't want to do that, I didn't want to go to the places I was, basically down and out with life and not wanting to live anymore.

SOCCER AMERICA: When did you hit bottom and decide to seek help?

QUARANTA:
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the 23rd of October, I remember thinking, "I just can't do this anymore." I just had surgery two weeks before and I couldn't live life anymore. Soccer was gone, my wife and I were done, she didn't want her and my daughter to be around me. I was a wreck.

SOCCER AMERICA: Why couldn't your wife help you?

QUARANTA:
She was wrapped up in my life and trying to help me as much as she could but once I crossed the line of being untreatable, I was really to the point where I had to find God, I had to find myself, I had to find a focus, what I was here for. It wasn't soccer.

My purpose in life is a little different than just soccer. I'm a father and try to do the best for my daughter and try to be the best husband I can as well, now. Before I wasn't doing those things at all and I was very selfish and worried about myself and trying to keep myself going on a daily basis. Where I was, that was tough to do.

SOCCER AMERICA: Before you decided to speak publicly, you only spoke of a "dark place." Where were you and how did you get there?

QUARANTA:
I remember if I was home at night, my wife would be in bed with the baby and I'd take a few pills and play video games. She wouldn't really know. That was it and I'd think, "That was nice."

Then I started a little earlier. It wasn't because of pain. I had a couple of surgeries, too, but I'm not blaming it on that. Sometimes guys have to take pain pills. Then it just got to the point, I remember the first time I took 'em before practice at 10:45, just like it is now. I had a great practice, my body felt great, and I like, "Man, that's the ticket for me."

That was the best practice I'd had in a long time. You've got to be kidding me. I can have fun and I can play great? That was at the end of '05, when [Coach] Peter [Nowak] was still here. That went on and with the injuries I just started taking more and more pills, and I didn't even get it. I didn't get it. It got worse and worse. And then I was taking 'em before games, the day of games, all day.

SOCCER AMERICA: You were playing for the national team in 2005. Were you taking pills for those practices and games also?

QUARANTA:
No, I never took them when I was with the national team. That didn't happen. Not in January, not for any of those qualifiers, no way. I played well at the [2005] Gold Cup, I got a great Nike deal, things were going great. Everything's good, I've got a daughter and a wife.

You've talked to people in these situations before, man, and the mindset is totally absurd. But for me it made sense. I looked in the mirror and thought I really looked good.

SOCCER AMERICA: You had signed with MLS in 2001 as a 16-year-old, the youngest player to sign with the league until Freddy Adu came along. Were you angry that your career hadn't gone as well as his, or of other younger players?

QUARANTA:
No, no, there was no anger, man. There was a lot of fear, I had a lot of fear. All my life, I guess, I was dealing with all that stuff. Now, I'm looking into all that, and you find out a lot about yourself. It had a lot to do with fear.

I felt I had to be so independent, by myself, since I was 16, just do everything without anybody's guidance, without anybody else.

SOCCER AMERICA: Is that a consequence of being a teenager on a pro team with mostly older players?

QUARANTA:
When I was young, I had to act so much more mature than I really was. I can tell you that. I was around guys here, so you put on, it's like a façade, almost. I was from a different place. I didn't want people to really know.

I did a good job with that. I gained a lot of respect from these guys because I knew what was right and what was wrong and the way to handle yourself and the way to not handle yourself. I was friends with Jaime [Moreno] and Benny [Olsen] and even Marco [Etcheverry], you know.

If it wasn't for him [Olsen] I don't know if I'd be back here in D.C., him and Jaime. I talked to him all throughout, last year and this offseason. He knew where I was mentally and physically before. Not a lot of people really knew where I was.

(Part II will follow Quaranta from D.C. United to the Galaxy to the Red Bulls to a clinic in Southern California.)

 



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