Santino Speaks, Part II

This is the second installment of excerpts from a conversation with D.C. United midfielder Santino Quaranta on June 3, about five months after he completed a 90-day stay at a drug treatment facility in Southern California. Part I appeared in Monday's edition of MLS Confidential, A feature on Quaranta's addiction to pain pills and recovery appears in the July 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.

SOCCER AMERICA: You've said that talking about your problems isn't something for which you expect praise. Is it helping you in your recovery?
I think there has to be more of this, so people know. You know how some people are when they hear a story like this. There's people who want to see me fail, I'm sure of that. Just in Baltimore, some friends of mine who when they heard when I was down and out, they weren't there for me. I see some of those same people and that woman who said, "Look at him, look what he did. He had it all, he was a good player. What a shame, what a disaster."

SOCCER AMERICA: A few times you've said some of your life growing up in Baltimore mirrors the popular TV show "The Wire." How has the city changed?
Growing up in Baltimore wasn't real peachy. It's a little bit like "The Wire," you know, we grew up in the city. It's similar now, but not before. When I was younger, it wasn't like it is now.

It was an Italian neighborhood, with a lot of great people. As I grew up, the older people started to die off and the younger ones moved out of the city. It changed a lot. It become a lot different. Growing up, we were playing soccer, you know, all the kids were busy and not getting into trouble. Once that changed, you find yourself involved in things you never thought you'd be a part of.

I see it now. I see friends of mine grow up and it's not good. I don't have to explain it, you can figure it out. It's all the same. I see it everywhere but I just know the city so well, it's heavy. The statistics don't lie, but I got over that part of it, man.

SOCCER AMERICA: You failed a random drug test in 2006, testing positive for cocaine, though you were also taking a lot of pain pills at the time. Didn't this serve as a serious warning?
I bull******* my way around it and I was really good at that. I could get myself out of situations. I was proud of myself.

I had a lot of excuses. I was very good at that, too. It's so sad because I love my daughter, I love my family, I love my wife, I love my mom and dad, but I just couldn't be any of the above. When you don't have anything to offer, when you're declining, when you can't deal with life on life's terms, that's scary.

I'd have them in my pocket. I had them in the locker room before. After practice, as soon as I got out, I would take them. I was a full-blown addict. I can't explain it any other way. My life revolved around that. I drank, but the drinking wasn't a major thing. I didn't drink every day.

Some days I'd take 40 or 50 pills, easy. And try to play. That was a normal day for me. I should have been dead, with the amount of Tylenol and codeine and Oxycontin I was putting into my body. I've been around people who died from pills and it doesn't even faze you, man.

SOCCER AMERICA: What about after D.C. United traded you to Los Angeles shortly after you failed that drug test? You stayed there a year and then got traded again to New York.
[The Galaxy] should have got rid of me when I showed up for training camp. Was I wrong? Of course I was wrong. I felt they were in the wrong by getting rid of me and trading me. Now I look back and say, "Thank you for keeping me that long."

New York just didn't feel like I was part of it. I knew I had to change for myself, for my own life.

SOCCER AMERICA: You had extensive foot surgery in early October [2007] to repair damage suffered playing for Red Bull. How did that affect your condition?
The surgery I had was serious. They told me I wasn't going to play again. My plantar plate was destroyed. They had to reconstruct the bones underneath my foot. A tendon was completely severed, they had to reattach this tendon to my big toe, and anchor a part because it was a mess. They had to shave bone down on my foot.

When that happened I was really losing it. I couldn't believe this was all happening. My mindset was that, "Maybe you can get some money from the league and blow that, and go to the doctor and get pain pills. That would be a nice life." That's where my mind was.

We got that done and I said to myself, "I don't care." I didn't do anything to take care of this either, in the beginning. I did nothing, didn't go to follow-up 10 days later, because I was such a mess. They told me I wasn't going to come back from this, so I did everything wrong. That's how God works sometimes.

SOCCER AMERICA: So about two weeks later, you finally decided to get help.
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: MLS sent you to a clinic in Malibu, California, for an initial 60-day stay and then a 30-day follow up.
For 33 days, I didn't sleep normal. I'd sleep for two hours here, three hours there, two hours. I had to take a salt bath every day because my body hurt so bad. Thirty-three days in, I slept for five hours, and I was so happy. It was the best feeling, not to be twitching all night. I thought, "Man, this is great."

We did stuff like family weekends. My wife was very emotional. I was out there with a lot of people who are well-known, Hollywood people, very, very big people I talked to. People in the movies who were just like me and just like the guys in the street. There were athletes in other sports, too. It's no different. You have 10 dollars or millions of dollars.

SOCCER AMERICA: What keeps you on the right path now?
When you have the ways that I had, there's no upside. The pills will take you down. There's no light at the end of the tunnel. I can't go out and have a glass of wine anymore and I'm fine with that. I have a sponsor and I talk to my sponsor, and surround myself with good people, the players and coaches and people at D.C., and my wife and my daughter and my family. Three or four times a week I got to meetings.

On the field and in the training room, I do what I have to do to play every day. For me, that was very hard before. I couldn't wait to get out of there because I had things to do. I found a way to do them, I can tell you that.

The opiates and the pills, they were bad. I was down and out. I mean down and out. You know what these pain pills do to you. They kill you. I don't know if I would have made it much longer, literally. I don't know if I would have been living at the rate I was going.

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